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The Untold Story of the Teenagers 
and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell 


Grove Press 
New York 

Copyright© 201 3 by Philip D. Lapsley 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, 
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COFOUNDED APPLE, AND HAD FUN DOING IT by Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith. 

Copyright ©2006 by Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith. 

Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 

ISBN-1 3: 978-0-8021 -9375-9 

Grove Press 

an imprint of Grove/ Atlantic, Inc. 

841 Broadway 
New York, NY 10003 

Distributed by Publishers Group West 
13 14 15 16 1098765432 1 

To the men and women of the Bell System, and especially to the 
members of the technical staff of Bell Laboratories, without whom 
none of this would have been possible 


Foreword by Steve Wozniak 
A Note on Names and T enses 
Chapter i FINE ARTS 13 


Chapter 5 BLUE BOX 


Chapter? HEADACHE 





Photo Insert 



Chapter 14 BUSTED 

Chapter 15 PRANKS 

Chapter is THE STORY OF A WAR 


Chapter is SNITCH 

Chapter 19 CRUNCHED 

Chapter 20 TWILIGHT 

Chapter 21 NIGHTFALL 


Sources and Notes 



The Playground 

Phone phreak(n.) 1 . A person who is obsessively interested in 
learning about, exploring, or playing with the telephone network. 
2. A person who is interested in making free telephone calls. 


I first learned about phone phreaking from a magazine. In the fall of 1971 I stumbled onto an 
article that seemed like a bit of science fiction, about these groups of people who knew how to 
crack the phone system all over the world. I was young, only twenty years old, and I thought this 
was a really cool made up story. 

I phoned Steve Jobs halfway through and started reading him the article. I just had to call 
him. We researched it and found out, “Whoa!” It made sense! Who would ever believe you 
could put tones into a phone and make calls free anywhere in the world? I mean, who would 
believe it? It was like we stumbled onto to some magical mystery that other people just didn’t 
know about. And I had no idea the impact it would end up having on my life. 

We just had to try it, to find out if it really worked. Over the next few months I started designing 
a “blue box,” an electronic gizmo that made the tones you needed to control the telephone 
network. I put so much attention into trying to make it the very best blue box in the world. It was 
digital, unlike the ones that everybody else had, and it had some of the cleverest, most off-the- 

wall design techniques I’ve ever put into anything I’ve ever built, even to this day. It was great, 
and it was my passport into the phone phreaks’ underground network. 

I had grown up very shy and often felt left out of things. But for me, phone phreaking was a 
place in the world that I was like a leader. It was a place where I could blossom. And it’s not that 
I could blossom as a criminal — it wasn’t that we had lots of people to call or had giant phone 
bills or really wanted to rip off the phone company or anything. It’s just that it was so exciting! 
When I went into a room and showed off phone tricks with a blue box, I was like a magician 
playing tricks. I was the center of attention. That was probably partly what drove me. But it was 
also the fascination of doing something that nobody would really believe was possible. 

I was enthusiastic then about very few things, but this one I was enthusiastic about. Phone 
phreaking was one of the first big adventures I had in my life. And it made me want to have 
more of those adventures by designing more things like my blue box, weird things that worked 
in ways that people didn’t expect. For the rest of my life, that was the reason I kept doing project 
after project after project, usually with Steve Jobs. You could trace it right up to the Apple II 
computer. It was the start of wanting to constantly design things very, very well and get noticed 
for it. Steve and I were a team from that day on. He once said that Apple wouldn’t have existed 
without the blue box, and I agree. 

Today a lot of people are computer hackers and a lot of them just want to cause problems for 
others — they’re like vandals. I was not a vandal, I was just curious. But, boy, I wanted to find out 
what the limits of the telephone system were. What are the limits of any system? I’ve found that 
for almost anybody who thinks well in digital electronics or computer programming, if you go 
back and look at their lives they’ll have these areas of misbehavior. And I think some of the 
most creative people have all, at some point, focused their creativity on doing things that they 
aren’t supposed to do. But their goal is usually, oh my gosh, can I discover something? Is there 
some way to do something that is not exactly in books and not known? Hackers are the ultimate 
example: every hacker I’ve ever run into is always trying to explore the little tiny nuances of 
anything looking for a mistake, a crack they can get through. 

The blue box was this magical, unbelievable adventure. The fact that nobody else knew 
about it and I did made it special knowledge. But it was no good just to know it inside — it was 
only good when I shared it with others. It was playing with magical powers. I would say I had an 
awful lot of those experiences in my life, but the blue box was probably the most special of all. 

I hope that getting to learn a little bit about phone phreaking turns out to be one tenth as much 
fun for you as it was for me to experience it. 

Steve Wozniak 
Cofounder, Apple Computer 


/Anonymity and pseudonyms have been a thorn in my side throughout the writing of this book. 
Despite my attempts to convince my interviewees that this all happened a long time ago, that 
the statute of limitations has long since expired, that the phone company doesn’t care and the 
phone phreaks don’t care and law enforcement doesn’t care, several people have insisted on 
either being anonymous or being referred to by pseudonyms. For those who wished to be 
nameless, I have tried to make their anonymity obvious (“A source familiar with the matter 
recalls . . .”). Pseudonyms are marked with a footnote when they are first used to call attention 
to the shy. Each such footnote indicates whether the pseudonym is historical or modern, that is, 

whether the pseudonym used was the person’s nom de phreak back in the day or is a more 
recent fabrication for purposes of present-day identity protection. 

The identity of every source used in the book is known to me; there have been no “Deep 
Throat”-style encounters in which I have received late-night phone calls from truly anonymous 
sources telling me outlandish things or, for that matter, any things at all. I guess I’m just in the 
wrong line of work. 

Finally, a note on verb tense: when I have used the present tense to attribute a quote in this 
book (e.g., “Acker recalls” or “Perrin remembers”), it means that the quote was taken directly 
from an interview I conducted between 2005 and 2012 or from a document published during 
that time. When I have used the past tense (“The memo stated” or “Draper said”), it indicates 
that the quote was taken from an older newspaper article, memo, FBI file, or other document, or 
from notes or audiotapes from the time in question. 



T here it was again. 

Jake Locke! set down his cup and looked more closely at the classified ad. It was early 
afternoon on a clear spring day in Cambridge in 1967. Locke, an undergrad at Harvard 
University, had just gotten out of bed. A transplant from southern California, he didn’t quite fit in 
with Harvard’s button-down culture — another student had told him he looked like a “nerdy 
California surfer,” what with his black-framed eyeglasses, blond hair, blue eyes, and tall, slim 
build. Now in the midst of his sophomore slump, Locke found himself spending a lot of time 
sleeping late, cutting classes, and reading the newspaper to find interesting things to do. Pretty 
much anything seemed better than going to classes, in fact. 

1A pseudonym. 

It was a slow news day. The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, didn’t have much in the 
way of interesting articles, so Locke once again found himself reading the classified ads over 
breakfast. He had become something of a connoisseur of these little bits of poetry — people 
selling cars, looking for roommates, even the occasional kooky personal ad probably intended 
as a joke between lovers — all expressed in a dozen or so words. 

But this ad was different. It had been running for a while and it had started to bug him. 

wanted harvard mit Fine Arts no. 13 notebook. (121 pages) & 40 page reply K.K. & C.R. plus 2,800; battery; m.f. El 
presidente no esta aqui asora, que lastima. B. David Box 1 1 595 St. Louis, MO 63105. 

Locke had seen similar classified ads from students who had lost their notes for one class or 
another and were panicking as exams rolled around. They often were placed in the Crimson in 
the hopes that some kind soul had found their notes and would return them. Fine Arts 13 was 
the introductory art appreciation class at Harvard, so that fit. 

But nothing else about the ad made any sense. Fine Arts 1 3 wasn’t offered at MIT. And what 
was all the gibberish afterward? 2,800? Battery? M.f., K.K., C.R.? What was with the Spanish? 
And why was somebody in St. Louis, Missouri, running an ad in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 
looking for a notebook for a class at Harvard? Locke had watched the ad run every day for the 
past few weeks. Whoever they were, and whatever it was, they clearly wanted this notebook. 
Why were they so persistent? 

One way to find out. 

Locke looked around for a piece of paper and a pen. He wrote: “Dear B. David: I have your 
notebook. Let’s talk. Sincerely, Jake.” 

He dropped the letter in the mail on his way into Harvard Square to find something interesting 
to do. 

An envelope with a St. Louis, Missouri, postmark showed up in Locke’s mailbox a week later. 
Locke opened the envelope and read the single sheet of paper. Or rather, he tried to read it. It 
wasn’t in English. It seemed to be written in some sort of alien hieroglyphics. It was brief, only a 
paragraph or so long. The characters looked familiar somehow but not enough that he could 
decipher them. 

Locke showed the letter to everyone he saw that day but nobody could read it. Later that 
evening, as Locke sat at the kitchen table in his dorm room and stared at the letter, trying to 
puzzle it out, one of his roommates came home. Shocked that Locke might actually be doing 
something that looked like homework, his roommate asked what he was working on. Locke 
passed the letter across the table and told him about it. 

His roommate took one look and said, “It looks like Russian.” 

Locke said, “That’s what I thought. But the characters don’t seem right.” 

“Yeah. They’re not. In fact . . .” His roommate’s voice trailed off for a moment. “In fact, they’re 
mirror writing.” 


“You know, mirror writing. The letters are written backwards. See?” 

Locke looked. Sure enough: backwards. 

Locke and his roommate went to the mirror and transcribed the reversed lettering. It was 
Cyrillic — Russian letters. Fortunately, Locke’s roommate was taking a Russian class. They sat 
back down at the table and translated the letter. 

“Dear Jake,” the letter read. “Thank you very much for your reply. However, I seriously doubt 
that you have what I need. I would strongly advise you to keep to yourself and not interfere. This 
is serious business and you could get into trouble.” Signed, B. David. 

Locke sat back. Someone had put a cryptic ad in the newspaper. He’d responded. They sent 
him a letter. In mirror writing. In Russian. In 1 967. During the cold war. 

Spy ring. 

It just didn’t get much cooler than this, Locke figured. Intriguing. Terrifying, even. And far, far 
better than going to class. 

Locke mailed his reply that day — in English, and not in mirror writing. “Dear B. David: 
Actually, I do have your notebook and I would like to talk to you. Sincerely, Jake.” 

Four days went by before the mailman brought Locke an odd letter, a piece of card stock 
folded in half and taped at the top. The fold line was perforated so that it could be torn in half. 
The writing was in English this time. 

“Dear Jake, if you have the information I need, you should be able to complete the other half 
of this card and mail it back to me. Then we can continue our discussions. Sincerely, B. David.” 
Locke looked at the other half of the postcard. It had a handful of questions on it: 

Complete the following sequence: 604, 234, 121, 

What does M.F. stand for? 

What equipment were the students at Harvard and MIT using? 


Locke spent every waking hour over the next several days working on the postcard questions. 
The numbers repeated over and over in his mind: 604, 234, 121 ... 604, 234, 1 21 ... 604, 234, 

121 .. . 


A phone number? It wasn’t directory assistance — Locke knew that would have been 555- 
1 21 2 — but it sort of sounded right. Worth a shot, anyway. He picked up the phone and dialed. A 
woman’s businesslike voice answered on the first ring. 

“Cleaner clean,” she said. 

“Excuse me?” said Locke. 

“Cleaner clean inward,” the woman repeated, more distinctly this time. 

Locke hung up. He stared at the phone. Cleaner clean? Inward? 

Where was area code 604, anyway? The phone book said British Columbia. And where was 
that? Western Canada. Locke looked around his dorm room, found an atlas, and flipped to the 
page on British Columbia. He scanned the map. The big cities had names he recognized, 
names like Vancouver and Prince George. The smaller towns had less familiar names. Names 
like Kamloops. Squamish. Quesnel. Chilanko. 

Kleena Kleene. 

At dinner that night Locke mentioned his phone call to Steve, another of his roommates. Steve 
said, “Huh. That’s interesting. My girlfriend Suzy is an inward.” 

“What? What’s an inward?” asked Locke. 

“It’s some kind of special telephone operator. You should talk to her, she might be able to 
help you figure some of this stuff out. She lives over in Revere. Give her a call.” 

Locke did. Suzy explained that an inward is an “operator’s operator.” When an operator 
needs assistance in making a call, she calls the inward operator for the destination city. The 
inward operator then completes the call to a local number. 

“So how do I call an inward?” Locke asked her. 

“You can’t. Inwards have special phone numbers that only operators can dial. If you wanted 
to call the New York inward, you’d have to dial something like 212-049-121. So 121 is what 
gets you the inward, and 049 is a routing code inside of New York, and New York is the 212 
area code. But you can’t dial numbers like 049 or 1 21 from a regular phone.” 

Locke explained that he seemed to have found a way to call an inward operator from his 
regular phone by dialing 604-234-1 21 2. 

“Well,” Suzy said, “I’m mystified. You shouldn’t be able to. I don’t know, maybe you found a 
glitch. But here’s how you can tell. Call them up and ask them to complete a call to somebody. 
If they’re really an inward, they’ll be able to do it no problem.” 

“I don’t know anybody in Canada,” Locke said. 

“That’s okay. An inward can call anywhere. And we sometimes get calls from the test board 
within the phone company asking us to complete calls to places for testing purposes. Just tell 
them you’re with the test board. Be confident and self-assured and act like you know what 
you’re doing and they won’t give you any trouble.” 

“Okay. I’ll try that. Hey, any idea what ‘M.F.’ might stand for?” 

“Well,” Suzy replied, “it could be multifrequency.” 

“Multifrequency. What’s that?” Locke asked. 

“It’s the system that operators use to make calls. It’s kind of like those touch tones used for 
push-button dialing, but it sounds different.” Locke’s dorm phone was rotary dial, but he knew 
what touch tones were — they had been introduced just a few years earlier. 

“Okay. Hey, thanks, Suzy.” They said good-bye. He hung up. 

Locke picked up the phone again and dialed 604-234-1212. Once again the businesslike 
female voice answered. 

“Kleena Kleene inward.” 

“Hi, uh, yes,” Locke said. “This is the test board. Could you connect me to 619-374-8491, 

“One moment.” There was a pause. The long-distance hiss got louder. A click. Another 
pause. More hiss. Another click. Then a ringing signal. 

“Hello?” It was his friend Dave in San Diego. 

Locke chatted with his friend for a few minutes and then hung up. He felt as if he were 
floating. It seemed magical. “Act like you know what you’re doing and they won’t give you any 
trouble.” It worked! 

Two postcard questions down. One left: “What equipment were the students at MIT using?” 

Once again, another roommate came to Locke’s rescue — fortunately, Locke lived in a suite 
and had lots of roommates. “We’re talking about phones and MIT students, right? I remember 
an article in the Crimson about a year ago about some MIT students who got in trouble for 
playing with the telephone. Could that be it?” 

“Maybe,” said Locke. “But how am I gonna find an old copy of the Crimson ?” 

“The library?” his friend suggested. 

This was a challenge. Locke had never been to the university’s library before. 

Locke was surprised to find it was close to his dorm and that other students seemed able to 
direct him there. Soon Locke was flipping through page after page of old Crimsons. An hour 
later, in an issue from almost a year earlier in 1 966, he found what he was looking for. 

Five Students Psych Bell System, 

Place Free Long Distance Calls 

Five local students, four from Harvard and one from M.I.T., spent eight months making long distance and international 
phone calls as guests of the Bell System before they were finally discovered. 

The telephone company accepted the news without bitterness, however, merely impounding the 121 -page Fine Arts 
1 3 notebook that contained the records of their “researches” and requiring them to submit a full report, which ran to 40 
double-spaced pages, of what they had done. 

Mesmerized, Locke read on, the words from the classified ad running through his head. The 
article described how, starting in 1962, the students had used inward operators — including one 
in Kleena Kleene — to complete calls all over the world. It tantalized with an infuriatingly brief 
description of how it was possible to build an electronic device to control the telephone system 
for “$50 of common electronic components.” The article concluded abruptly, stating that the 
students were caught in April 1 963 when a telephone company employee turned them in. 

Locke was elated. Pieces were falling into place, and now he had enough to respond to B. 
David. But the article was short on details. He needed to find out more. He needed to talk to the 
original Harvard and MIT students. Locke jotted down the name of the article’s author, another 
student at Harvard. 

The next day he filled out the reply postcard and dropped it in the mail to B. David. Then he 
called the Crimson reporter to pump him for details. The reporter wasn’t very helpful. He didn’t 
know the names of the Harvard or MIT students, he said, and it turned out that he had gotten 
most of his information from an article in the Boston Herald. He had then talked to the Herald 
reporter to get some additional context. 

“Didn’t the Herald reporter know the names of the students?” Locke asked. 

“Oh, sure, but he wouldn’t give them to me. And I doubt he’ll give them to you either,” the 
Crimson reporter replied. 

Back to the library. Locke dug up the Herald article. It described the Harvard and MIT 
students making calls to the president of Mexico and gave a name — “blue box” — to the 
electronic device that had allowed them to control the telephone network. It spoke of their 
staying up all night, of spending eighty hours a week on their research, of dialing ten thousand 
numbers over two to three days to find the information they needed. It even said the students 
were questioned by FBI agents who thought they were stealing defense secrets. 

Locke looked up the telephone number for the newspaper. Be confident and self-assured 
and act like you know what you’re doing. He drew a deep breath, picked up the phone, dialed 
the Herald, and asked to be connected to the reporter who wrote the article. When the reporter 
answered, Locke politely explained who he was and what he was looking for. 

“This is Special Agent Stevenson with the FBI Boston Field Office. We’ve had a report that 
there has been some new activity related to an incident that occurred a few years ago with 
some Harvard and MIT students misusing the telephone system. We’re trying to reach them to 
talk to them about this but we don’t have current contact information for them. I saw your article 
about them from a year ago or so. Do you have telephone numbers for any of them?” 

Not a problem, the reporter replied. He’d be happy to help. 

Before Locke had a chance to call any of the students his phone rang. It was B. David and he 
wanted to know about the Fine Arts 13 notebook. Oh, yes, that notebook: the one that Locke 
didn’t actually have. Locke did his best to keep up the charade. Well, he admitted, he wasn’t 
actually one of the Harvard or MIT students but he knew them. He was a friend of theirs. He had 
participated in some of their “research.” 

B. David grilled him. It quickly became apparent that Locke didn’t know as much as he was 
claiming. As Locke would later recall, “You can only fake things so far before they begin to 
crumble.” Locke admitted the truth. 

Surprisingly, B. David wasn’t mad, and now that the cat was out of the bag the two had a 
pleasant conversation. B. David explained that there was an informal network of telephone 
enthusiasts like himself, and that he had been trying to reach the Harvard and MIT students to 
talk to them about their exploits. “Welcome to our world,” he said. Locke asked for pointers. B. 
David demurred on details: “I don’t want to give you too much information. I will tell you one 
thing, though: look for missing exchanges. Look for patterns. I’ll give you a call back in a few 
weeks to see how you’re doing.” 

This all seemed fascinating to Locke. He called the former MIT student — now living in 
Berkeley, California — whose number he had gotten from the Herald reporter. The student was 
friendly enough but, like B. David, was also reluctant to provide much information. The MIT 
student explained that he and his friends had been caught and interrogated by the FBI, 
although not actually prosecuted. He stressed that Locke could get in trouble playing with this 
stuff and that Locke should stay away from the whole thing. Locke pressed him for more 
information. Finally the MIT student told him, “If you really want to find out more, everything you 
need to know is in the library.” 

Great, thought Locke, a third trip to the library. 

But what library would have the sort of information he was looking for? Some research led 
him to the physics library and something called the Bell System Technical Journal. The one 
term Locke knew to look up was “multifrequency.” From the journal’s index he quickly located 
an article from the November 1960 issue titled “Signaling Systems for Control of Telephone 
Switching.” It was technical but not so technical that Locke couldn’t understand a good chunk of 
it. It laid out in detail exactly how certain aspects of the telephone system worked, including the 
multifrequency signaling system. This article plus the Crimson and Herald stories, as well as 
his conversations with B. David and the former MIT student, gave him everything he needed to 
get serious about this stuff. 

Locke started to spend a lot of time on the telephone. “Look for missing exchanges, look for 
patterns,” B. David had told him. Locke knew that an exchange was the first three digits of a 
local telephone number. By making a careful study of the telephone book and doing a lot of 
dialing, Locke discovered that there were indeed missing exchanges in the downtown Boston 
area. When Locke found a missing exchange, he would start dialing all the telephone numbers 

in it. All ten thousand of them. 

Weeks later Locke had three things to show for his efforts. The first was an indelible black 
circle around his index finger from his repeated dialing. Second was four livid roommates: 
because Locke was constantly on the phone, none of them could make or receive phone calls. 
But third was a collection of some very interesting telephone numbers. Some of these were odd 
test numbers, numbers that made weird beeps, boops, clicks, and tones. More interesting were 
so-called party lines. These were typically vacant number recordings (“We’re sorry, you have 
reached a nonworking number . . .”) whose audio levels were very low. All the callers to one of 
these numbers would be connected, and because the volume of the recordings was so low 
people could talk over the recordings. As a result, they served as primitive conference calls at a 
time when such things were unheard of. 

Most interesting, though, was that several numbers went to inward operators in various 

Locke’s obsession grew. He decided he wanted to build one of these mystical “blue boxes” 
so that he, too, could directly control the telephone network. That meant he’d need to build 
electronic oscillators, circuits that would make musical tones. But Locke didn’t know anything 
about electronics. Looking for patterns and missing exchange numbers was one thing; 
electronic circuit design was something else. Locke got a friend of his to introduce him to a 
graduate student in the physics department in order to persuade him to help build the oscillator 
circuits he needed for his blue box. 

“What do you need them for?” the grad student asked. 

Be confident and self-assured and act like you know what you’re doing. “I’m a biology major 
and I’m studying the effects of high-frequency audio oscillations on fruitfly germination.” 

The grad student raised an eyebrow but helped Locke anyway. 

Locke started haunting the electronics stores in Cambridge, looking for parts and guidance 
on assembling his blue box. Before long he linked up with students at MIT in the Tech Model 
Railroad Club, or TMRC, near the Kendall Square T Station. The TMRC was home to one of 
the most technically sophisticated model railroad setups in the country, possibly the world. MIT 
students had laid out some six hundred feet of track simulating ten scale miles of railroad amid 
painstakingly detailed scenery. The trains were controlled by a fantastically complex switching 
system based on many of the same principles as the telephone network. Indeed, the telephone 
company had donated equipment to the club for just this purpose, and the club’s faculty adviser 
was in charge of MIT’s telephone system, so it was not surprising that model train operators at 
TMRC used a telephone dial to select the train to be controlled. It was a veritable breeding 
ground for telephone enthusiasts. 

With help from the more electronically knowledgeable students at MIT, and only a few 
soldering iron burns, Locke was able to piece together a blue box. By now Locke had been told 
by enough people that he could get in trouble for using his blue box and that he should be 
careful. So Locke was careful — when it was convenient, anyway. He used his blue box from the 
pay phone in his dorm quite a bit, as well as from friends’ houses. As Locke figured it, the only 
thing he was doing with it was using it to learn about how the phone system worked. He didn’t 
even really know anybody far away he wanted to call, so it wasn’t like he was racking up 
thousands of dollars in free long-distance calls. He just couldn’t imagine that anyone cared 
about his activities that much. 

Incredibly enough, some people did care, as Locke learned upon returning to his dorm room 
in June 1967, just three months after seeing the Fine Arts 13 ad in the Crimson. He knew he 
was in trouble from the moment he walked in the door: waiting for him in his living room were 
three men. One of them was the crestfallen house master, the Harvard professor who was the 

head of Locke’s dorm. Locke didn’t know the other two, but he did notice that one of them was 
wearing a trench coat — strange, given that it was a warm summer day. 

“The jig’s up, Locke,” the house master said. 

Trying to stall for time, Locke asked, “Which jig?” 

Based on the reactions of his three visitors, Locke surmised this was the wrong thing to have 

“You know which jig we’re talking about, Locke,” said one of the men. “The telephone jig. 
We’ve been through your things.” He held up Locke’s blue box. “We need to talk.” 

One of his visitors turned out to be from the telephone company, AT&T security. The other 
introduced himself as a special agent from the FBI’s Boston Field Office. They asked Locke to 
come downtown with them. The FBI agent told him that this was a very serious matter, that they 
had some questions they wanted straight answers to, and that they would arrest him if he didn’t 

Locke spent the next twenty-four hours in what felt like a scene from a 1 940s detective movie: 
a barren room with nothing more than a wooden table, a chair for him, two chairs for his 
interrogators, and a bare lightbulb dangling from the ceiling. Sitting across from him, the FBI 
agent and the telephone security man worked hard to get him to confess to using the blue box 
to make free telephone calls. Despite being scared to death Locke denied everything. He didn’t 
know what they were talking about, he said. 

After several hours of questioning, he finally admitted that yes, the blue box was his, but that 
he had used it only to learn about the telephone network. Locke expected them to start grilling 
him about how many free calls he had made, but his interrogators shifted focus. They wanted to 
know who had given him the technical information necessary for him to build a blue box. He 
explained that he had seen an article in the Boston Herald and then found the Bell System 
Technical Journal article and gone on from there. In other words, there wasn’t anyone else; he 
had been all on his own. It took a long time, but he managed to convince them of his version of 

Again the questioning shifted course. Okay, they said, you figured out this stuff on your own. 
Fine. Now tell us who you’ve been selling the boxes to. 

Locke was flummoxed. Selling the boxes? What boxes? He had built only the one, and he 
hadn’t sold it to anyone. The FBI agent grilled him. They were sure he had been selling them — 
or at least supplying them — to others. To whom, they wouldn’t say. After hours of back and 
forth, Locke was able to get across that it was just him, there was just the one box he had built, 
and he hadn’t been selling them. (In retrospect, Locke says he is glad he never thought of this. 
“The idea of selling blue boxes had never occurred to me . . . fortunately! It’s not a bad idea.”) 

Locke spent the evening in the care of the FBI. In the morning he was told he could leave, but 
only after he prepared a written report describing what he had done and the techniques he had 
used. He spent the morning writing this report. 

As he was leaving, Locke turned to the man from the phone company. His face slipped into a 
grin. “By the way,” he said, “I’m not doing anything for the summer. You guys wouldn’t happen 
to have any job openings, would you?” 



The object of Jake Locke’s obsession — the telephone — recently celebrated its 135th 
birthday. Few products can say that. The telephone’s staying power is testimony to our species’ 
deep-seated need to talk with one another. For thousands of years we humans have tried every 
trick we could think of to communicate at a distance: torches on mountaintops were big with the 
Greeks, the Romans released carrier pigeons to report the results of chariot races, African bush 
tribes sounded drums, American Indians had smoke signals, and ships at sea hoisted signal 
flags to communicate with each other. 

The problem, of course, was that these techniques all pretty much sucked; this is why you 
carry a cell phone in your pocket and not a signal flag or a pigeon. But we didn’t get to cell 
phones overnight. It took repeated assaults on the problem to before humanity managed to 
make a dent in it. 

In the late 1700s the new new thing in the world of communications was something called 
the optical telegraph. A network of windmill-like towers with pivoting shutters, blades, arms, or 
paddles that could be seen from a distance, the optical telegraph allowed reliable long-distance 
communications. Several systems were built but the best known was created by Claude 
Chappe and his brothers and deployed throughout France starting in 1793. The Chappe 
system used relay stations a few miles apart from each other. A station in Lyon, for example, 
would spin its paddle to send a particular signal. A few miles to the southwest, the operator at 
the Venissieux station would be watching, perhaps with the aid of a telescope. Fie would spin 
his paddles to repeat the message on to the station at Saint-Pierre-de-Chandieu, a few miles 
farther on down the line. And so the message would go, one station — and one spin of the 
paddle — at a time. 

It was as cumbersome as it sounds. It was expensive, laborious, and slow. Its use was 
limited to the government. It was also public — anyone could watch it, after all — and it didn’t 
work in foul weather or at night. Despite this, the optical telegraph was the first successful 
telecommunications network, serving for more than sixty years. By 1852 the Chappe system 
boasted 556 relay stations and traced a network distance of some three thousand miles. 
Tributaries from the main network connected many of the capitals of Europe — Amsterdam, 
Brussels, Mainz, Milan, Turin, and Venice. News of Napoleon’s coup d’etat in 1848 would have 
taken just under half an hour to transit the network, slow by today’s standards but fast for the 

Then the electrical telegraph arrived. It was from the future and, like many things from the 
future, it made things from the present — things like the optical telegraph — look like they were 
from the past. 

It was amazing. With a battery and a switch and miles of wire and a sounder — a thing that 
clicked when you ran electrical current through it — you could communicate over a distance. 
Instantly. Not half an hour to send a message but half a minute. Of course, it wasn’t quite as 
easy as whipping out your cell phone and texting your friend, but you could write out a 
message — a telegram — and take it down to your local telegraph office, pay some money, and 
have it sent. 

It was patented in both England and America in the same year, 1837. In America the inventor 
was Samuel Morse, whose his first functioning telegraph line went live between Washington, 
D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland, in 1844. Washington to New York followed two years later. 

It seems incredibly primitive today. So primitive, in fact, that it is difficult to appreciate just how 
stunning this was at the time. It let loose a communications revolution that the writer Tom 
Standage dubbed the “Victorian Internet.” Americans took to the telegraph like teenagers to text 
messages. By 1850 America had twelve thousand miles of telegraph lines served by some 
twenty companies. Only two years later this had just about doubled to twenty-three thousand 

miles, with another ten thousand miles under construction. A writer chronicling the telegraph’s 
rapid growth at the time reported: “It is anticipated that the whole of the populous parts of the 
United States will, within two or three years, be covered with a net-work like a spider’s web.” 

The prediction was right. The tendrils of the telegraph’s spiderweb spread rapidly, its threads 
vibrating with the dots and dashes of Mr. Morse’s code. The web — the telegraph web, like its 
Internet great-grandchild a century and a half later — conveyed news, facilitated commerce, and 
whispered gossip. Romance blossomed over the telegraph; even weddings took place 
telegraphically. It reported stock prices and winning lottery numbers. Gamblers and scam artists 
used the telegraphic web as well, passing news of sporting events and devising schemes to 
cheat and defraud. 

The spider that owned the web was the Western Union Telegraph Company. Formed by the 
merger of several competing telegraph companies in 1855, it controlled 90 percent of all 
telegraph traffic in the United States within just over ten years. But the telegraph’s astonishing 
growth was just getting started. In 1867 the telegraph network carried 5.8 million telegraph 
messages and Western Union reported revenues of some $6.6 million — almost $700 million in 
today’s dollars. By 1875 the number of messages had grown to about 20 million. So many 
messages, in fact, that the lines were becoming clogged. Expanding capacity by adding more 
telegraph wires was an expensive proposition. The network cried out for a way to transmit 
multiple telegraph messages over the same pair of wires, and riches awaited the man who 
invented the “multiple telegraph.” 

As a later observer put it, “Nothing, save the hangman’s noose, concentrates the mind like 
piles of cash.” Of the many minds that concentrated on solving this problem, one belonged to a 
Boston professor, amateur inventor, and teacher of the deaf named Alexander Graham Bell. 
Bell’s take on the multiple telegraph came from his studies of hearing, sound, music, and 
human physiology. Bell knew that sounds, like music and speech, were made up of harmonics, 
that is, of different simultaneous frequencies. Perhaps it was possible to send multiple 
telegraph signals over the same wire using multiple tones of different pitch? Bell called his idea 
the “harmonic telegraph.” 

Bell worked intensely on the harmonic telegraph, even going so far as to accept an 
investment from Gardiner Hubbard, a Boston lawyer who would eventually become his father- 
in-law. But Bell’s mind kept gravitating toward a slightly different — and slightly crazy — idea: if 
you could send several notes simultaneously down a telegraph line for a multiple telegraph 
then maybe . . . just maybe . . . you could send a human voice down the wires. 

He became obsessed with this new idea, despite his investors’ attempts to keep him focused 
on the piles of cash the harmonic telegraph was going to generate for them. The telephone 
“could never be more than a scientific toy,” Hubbard told Bell. “You had better throw that idea 
out of your mind and go ahead with your musical telegraph, which if it is successful, will make 
you a millionaire.” 

But he couldn’t. Bell was consumed by a puzzle that was stuck in his head, a puzzle that 
wasn’t going anywhere until he figured it out. As the historian Tim Wu writes, “For him the thrill 
of the new was unbeatably compelling, and Bell knew that in his lab he was closing in on 
something miraculous. He, nearly alone in the world, was playing with magical powers never 
seen before.” He was also the right man for the job, the key that fit the lock. Bell himself recalled 
later, “I now realize that I should never have invented the telephone if I had been an electrician. 
What electrician would have been so foolish as to try any such thing? The advantage I had was 
that sound had been the study of my life — the study of vibrations.” 

It took three years but on March 10, 1876, Bell finally succeeded: he managed to send 
speech through a wire and into the next room. His prototype telephone was an unlikely 

contraption. To use it, Bell spoke into the transmitter, a funnel-shaped mouthpiece that focused 
his voice upon a flexible diaphragm. Suspended from the diaphragm was a short length of 
platinum wire, half immersed in a jar of sulfuric acid, the same sort of corrosive acid you’d find 
in a car battery. A wire ran from the platinum to the receiver — a primitive speaker, basically — in 
the next room. From the speaker, a wire ran to a battery and then back to a brass pipe that was 
also immersed in the transmitter’s acid bath. The acid was conductive and completed the circuit 
between the transmitter and the receiver. Here was the key innovation, the thing that made it all 
work: the louder Bell spoke into the mouthpiece, the more the diaphragm deflected and the 
deeper the platinum wire was plunged into the acid. The more wire dipped into the acid, the 
less electrical resistance there was in the circuit and the more current flowed to the receiver, 
causing the speaker to move proportionately. Using a jar of sulfuric acid Bell had created what 
would become known as a variable resistance transmitter. It was this that allowed his system to 
accurately mimic the volume fluctuations of speech over a pair of wires. 

Bell, Hubbard, investor Thomas Sanders, and Bell’s assistant Thomas Watson turned their 
attention to commercializing the new invention. Western Union, with its telegraph monopoly 
and millions of messages and hundreds of thousands of miles of wire, was the undisputed 
telecommunications giant of the day. It would seem to have been the natural home of 
telephony, an established company with a closely related business, technology, and relevant 
assets. Bell is said to have offered Western Union the rights to his telephone patent in 1876 for 
$100,000. Western Union’s president is alleged to have responded, “What use could this 
company make of an electrical toy?” Well, then. 

Bell and his associates pressed on with the telephone’s commercial rollout. This often took 
Bell and Watson on the public lecture circuit in Boston and its surrounds, demonstrating their 
new invention to crowds that were usually enthusiastic but sometimes skeptical. As one 
newspaper wrote at the time, “It is indeed difficult, hearing the sounds out of the mysterious box, 
to wholly resist the notion that the powers of darkness are somehow in league with it.” Despite 
such occasional press commentary they persevered. By 1877 the first permanent telephone 
wires were strung in a suburb of Boston, the first ads for telephone service appeared, and the 
first telephone rentals took place. The Bell Telephone Company itself was founded in July of 
that year. 

If you wanted telephone service between your office in Boston and, say, your home outside 
of town, Bell would be glad to set you up. You would be able to call your office from the comfort 
of your home, and your coworkers could call you. But it wasn’t much like telephone service 
today. Bell’s offering was point-to-point: a telephone at your home, a telephone at your office, 
and a telephone line run directly between them. In fact, it was your responsibility to hire 
telegraph contractors to run the line between your home and office. If you wanted to talk to 
multiple shops or suppliers, you had set up multiple pairs of telephones — and wires — between 
them and you. 

This was high-tech wizardry back in the day. But it suffered from some obvious drawbacks. 
The maximum distance you could cover was about twenty miles. Basic service was $20 per 
year for a pair of telephones for residences, $40 per year for businesses — equivalent to about 
$400 and $800 per year today. But the killer expense was telegraph line installation, which cost 
between $100 and $150 per mile, that is, between $2,000 and $3,000 per mile in present 
dollars. Note that telephones were rented, never owned outright; this was a key part of the Bell 
plan to maintain ownership over the entire telephone system. 

Forget about all that, though, because these are all small potatoes compared to this: you 
couldn’t call anyone you didn’t have a connection to. Want to talk to Aunt Mabel? Better get the 
telegraph installers busy running wires between your house and hers. 

Bell and others were aware of this problem and knew how to fix it. Instead of running wires 
directly from one place to another, why not run them all to a central place? When you wanted to 
make a call you’d pick up the phone and do something — push a button, turn a crank — to get the 
attention of someone at “central.” There a person — an operator — would answer the phone. 
You’d ask to be connected to Mr. Smith (who needed telephone numbers when only a few 
people had telephones?). Central would ring Mr. Smith’s telephone line. When Mr. Smith 
answered, the operator would connect the wires together, switching your call from central to 
your party. 

As Bell himself put it in a memo from early 1878, “Instead of erecting a line directly from one 
to another, I would advise you to bring the wires from the two points to the office of the 
Company and there connect them together ... the company should employ a man in each 
central office for the purpose of connecting wires as desired. A fixed annual rental could be 
charged for the use of the wires, or a toll could be levied. As all connections would necessarily 
be made at the central office, it would be easy to note the time during which any wires were 
connected and to make a charge accordingly — bills could be sent in periodically.” He added, 
prophetically, “However small the rate of charges might be, the revenue would probably be 
something enormous.” The switchboard, and with it the concepts of a telephone central office or 
exchange — to say nothing of your monthly telephone bill and its per-minute charges — was 

The first commercial switchboard debuted in January 1878 in New Haven, Connecticut, 
connecting twenty-one subscribers over eight telephone lines to a single operator, all under 
license from Bell Telephone. The first switchboards were primitive affairs: pieces of wood with 
a handful of metal bits, something that a fourth-grade science fair participant would scoff at 
today. But they worked, quickly establishing their superiority over point-to-point connections. 

Switchboards rapidly grew in size and complexity. The first switchboard operators? Teenage 
boys. As John Murphy writes in his book The Telephone, It was believed that they would have 
the energy, dexterity, quicksilver reflexes, and mechanical know-how to connect hundreds of 
calls an hour on a switchboard composed of a bewildering maze of thousands of cords and 
jacks. It turned out, however, that they were often impatient, rude, and foulmouthed to callers.” 
Goodness, who could have predicted? The teenage boys soon found themselves out of their 
jobs, replaced by women. The ladies, Murphy says, provided a “warmer human voice for the 
phone company” and also injected some sex appeal for the telephone’s primary user base: 

By now Western Union recognized its mistake in dismissing the telephone as a toy. Sure, 
Bell had three thousand installed telephones and Western Union had none. But Western Union 
was the largest company on earth at the time, with financing, engineering and operations skills, 
and 250,000 miles of installed telegraph wire. In December of 1877 it went head to head with 
Bell Telephone, launching the American Speaking Telephone company, with inventor Thomas 
Edison as one of its technical wizards. Within the year Western Union had surpassed Bell 
Telephone in several markets and looked poised to crush Bell entirely; it didn’t even resemble 
a fair fight. 

But Bell had something that Western Union didn’t: the fundamental patent on the telephone. 
Bell sued Western Union for patent infringement in September 1878. It took more than a year 
but in the end Bell won. In November 1879 Western Union settled the lawsuit, agreeing to exit 
the telephone business and transfer its telephone exchanges and thousands of telephone 
subscribers to Bell. In exchange, Bell Telephone agreed to limit its involvement in the telegraph 
business and to share a portion of its telephone revenues with Western Union for seventeen 
years. By the 1 880s Bell Telephone’s publicly traded stock had become the belle of the Boston 

Stock Exchange, where it traded under the ticker symbol “T” — for “telephone.” 

The legal victory also helped Bell go after a smaller but still vexing problem: people who had 
illegally connected telephones — some stolen, some leftovers from independent telephone 
companies — to Bell Telephone lines. “During the past few months the American Bell 
Telephone Co., of Boston, has had detectives at work in this city endeavoring to ascertain how 
many ‘bogus’ or outlawed telephones were in use here,” an 1890 trade journal reported. “Over 
200 have been discovered, and last Thursday the first batch of fifteen or twenty liverymen, 
doctors, dentists, druggists, and fuel dealers who have been using these infringing telephones 
were summoned to appear in the United States Circuit Court.” As a Bell agent in Philadelphia 
said, “I cannot understand how many good business men can permit themselves to use what 
they know it is against the law to use.” 

Despite having to deal with the occasional pirate telephone user, Bell was now positioned to 
own the majority of the telephone network in the United States for the next one hundred years — 
but there was one problem. Bell Telephone’s sacred patents would start expiring in 1894, 
opening the field for competition. To prepare for this coming onslaught, Bell Telephone formed 
a new subsidiary: American Telephone and Telegraph. AT&T’s mission was to build long- 
distance telephone lines — “long lines,” as they were called. The idea was to use the time 
remaining before its patents expired to develop the nation’s long-distance telephone network. 
Then, when the patents ran out, the company would have a formidable barrier to would-be 
competitors. AT&T would be the only company with long-distance telephone service and it 
could either charge other companies for access to its long-distance network or simply refuse to 
let other companies use it. 

AT&T’s first long-distance line, between New York and Philadelphia (capacity: one call), 
went live in 1885. AT&T reached Chicago in 1892, St. Louis in 1896, Minneapolis in 1897, and 
Kansas City in 1898. The far west took longer, as telephone engineers struggled with the 
challenge of sending voice over greater and greater distances. But the engineers persevered; 
Denver was reached in 1 91 1 and San Francisco in 1 915. 

Switchboards, meanwhile, still based on the same fundamentals as the piece of wood with 
connectors, became larger and more sophisticated. Electrical cords insulated in woven cloth 
were used to connect incoming calls to destination telephone lines; these are the “cordboards” 
you see in old movies, the ones where dozens of operators sit next to one another, arm by arm, 
plugging and unplugging wires into the large connector panels in front of them. 

By 1888 a switchboard had been designed that could serve more than ten thousand 
subscribers in New York City. In the cordboard’s eventual form, an operator would sit in front of 
about two hundred answering jacks and roughly three thousand calling jacks, that is, she could 
answer calls from about two hundred customers and connect them to about three thousand 
others. Multiple individual switchboards could be placed next to each other and ganged 
together, allowing one operator (with a certain amount of standing and stretching) to connect 
calls on the boards to her left or right, tripling her capacity. The result was that her two hundred 
subscribers could be connected to about nine thousand others. Put fifty of these switchboards 
and operators in the room and you had a complete telephone exchange: almost ten thousand 
people could be connected to one another. 

But what if you want to talk to somebody served by an entirely different switchboard? To do 
this you need a way of connecting switchboards in different locations. Wires called trunk lines 
were installed between central offices for this purpose. The central offices are the branches on 
the tree and the wires connecting them form the tree’s trunk. But Bell Telephone quickly ran into 
the same problem it had with the original telephone system: trunk lines are point to point. If you 
have ten central offices in a given city, and they all need trunk lines between them, you find 

yourself having to run forty-five lines due to all the possible combinations of central offices that 
need connections with each other — a big, expensive mess, and one that gets worse with each 
central office you add. 

The tandem switchboard solved this problem. You can think of a tandem switchboard as a 
switchboard of other switchboards, a special switchboard in a special central office that was 
used only for connecting other switchboards together. Just like the original central offices had 
all the telephone wires for a given exchange brought to a central place, a tandem central office 
had the trunk lines from other offices brought to a central place. There an operator on a tandem 
switchboard could connect trunk lines from one central office to another. The network was 
starting to become hierarchical. 

By 1903 there were about 3 million switchboard connected phones. The interesting thing 
about these millions of lines is that, in every case, a human being was the switch. It was the 
operator’s hand, arm, and reach that switched an incoming call to its destination, and the 
operator’s brain that told the hand and arm where to reach and what to do. Telephone switching 
was an intensely manual process, requiring warehouses full of people. By 1902 the Bell 
System employed some thirty thousand operators; by 1 91 4 it was about a hundred thousand. 

Humans as switches have lots of advantages, qualities such as judgment, sympathy, warmth 
— the personal touch that is part of customer service. But they have disadvantages too. For one 
thing, you have to pay them. For another, they’re slow. Between a lack of long-distance 
capacity and humans having to put through the calls, a coast-to-coast call in 1922 might have 
taken fifteen minutes or more to be connected. They make mistakes, for instance, plugging the 
wrong cord into the wrong jack. And then there are their all too human frailties. They eavesdrop 
on conversations. They gossip. They have loyalties. 

The last of these qualities, legend has it, was the straw that broke an undertaker’s back. Back 
in the late 1880s Almon Strowger, a mortician in Kansas City, Missouri, noticed a disturbing 
drop in his business. As it happened, the wife of a competing undertaker worked as an operator 
at the neighborhood switchboard. She, the story goes, tended to connect callers to her 
husband’s business — not Strowger’ s — when someone would call in and ask for the undertaker. 

You can think of many solutions to such a problem. You could complain to the telephone 
company. You could have a friendly chat with your competitor. You could even sue. But 
Strowger could see through to the root of the problem: pesky humans. Eliminate human 
operators and you’d eliminate the problem. Strowger set upon inventing a system to make 
human operators obsolete. Who needs a bunch of people plugging cords in boards when a 
machine could do the work more quickly, more accurately, less expensively — and more 

Strowger’s first mechanical telephone switch was patented in 1891. It allowed telephone 
subscribers to “dial” their own calls without needing to go through an operator. The original 
Strowger system didn’t involve an actual circular telephone dial; rather, each telephone had 
three buttons: one for the hundreds digit, one for the tens digit, and one for the ones digit. To 
call telephone number 315, you pressed the hundreds button three times, the tens button once, 
and the ones button five times. Inside, the fiddly bits of the switch worked together to connect 
you to the person you wanted. Look Ma Bell, no operator! 

Strowger formed the Automatic Electric Company to build and sell his mechanical telephone 
switch. The first automatic telephone exchange, based on the Strowger switch, opened in 
November 1892 in La Porte, Indiana, with seventy-five subscribers and room for ninety-nine 

Like many inventions, the first Strowger switch wasn’t quite ready for prime time and required 
a great deal of additional work before it became a commercially solid product. But it got there 

eventually, and with tremendous success. Bell eventually began using Strowger switches from 
Automatic Electric in 1915, and by 1926 Bell had licensed the Automatic Electric design and 
was manufacturing the switches itself. Telephone switches based on the Strowger switch — 
called “step-by-step” switches within the Bell System — would go on to become the dominant 
type of telephone switch for more than seventy years, seeing widespread use around the world. 
In the United States, the popularity of the Strowger switch reached its peak only in 1972 when 
more than 42 million telephone lines were connected to step-by-step switches descended from 
Strowger’s original design. 

Other types of automatic telephone switches followed the Strowger switch. The Bell System 
began a metamorphosis, from a purely human affair to a gigantic cyber-mechanical-human 
endeavor: a mix of operators and machines switching calls, supported in the background by still 
more humans designing, building, installing, and caring for the switching machines. Functions 
that were once the domain of human operators slowly became increasingly mechanized: 
switchboards became switching machines; tandem switchboards became tandem switches 
(“tandems” for short) — specialized machines designed to connect trunk lines from other 
switching machines, building up the long-distance telephone network link by automated link. 

Bell Telephone’s worries about competition starting when its patents began expiring in 1894 
turned out to be well founded. Just ten years later there were more than six thousand competing 
independent telephone companies providing local telephone service. For Bell Telephone and 
its shareholders, this competition was bad enough. But in some ways it was worse for the 
customers. Prices varied considerably, with some telephone companies opting for flat-rate 
service in which customers paid a fixed yearly fee for all the local calls they could make, while 
other companies went with measured-rate service and charged customers per call (and 
sometimes per minute) for local calls. Worst of all, the telephone lines of independent 
companies didn’t connect with those of the Bell System, or, for that matter, with other 
independents. Cities would have multiple telephone companies and subscribers to one 
company couldn’t call those of another. Businesses had to have different phone lines installed 
from different telephone companies to support their customers. 

Despite the chaos caused by these kinds of problems, the independents looked to be 
winning. By 1903 Bell had about fifteen hundred telephone exchanges and about 1.2 million 
subscribers. The independents had more than six thousand exchanges and about 2 million 

Bell Telephone fought back with everything it had. It drove independents out of business 
through what some would call predatory pricing, and it bought up many of those it could not 
drive out of business. It denied the independents the use of its long-distance network. And it 
engaged in more underhanded tricks, including bribing public officials to prevent the 
establishment of independent telephone companies as well as using company influence with 
banks to deny its competitors badly needed loans. It also launched an effort to dominate the 
telegraph industry, buying a controlling interest in its old nemesis Western Union in 1908. 
AT&T was described as a “ruthless, grinding, oppressive monopoly.” 

The U.S. Justice Department began an antitrust investigation against AT&T in 1913, 
culminating in a recommendation that the Interstate Commerce Commission dig into AT&T with 
an eye toward regulation. The possibility of breakup of the Bell System — or even government 
takeover of the telephone system — loomed. Such a possibility was not idle speculation. Britain 
had nationalized its telephone system in January 1912, and in 1913 the new U.S. postmaster 
believed that the telephone system should be owned by the government just like the postal 

AT&T began a series of negotiations with the Justice Department to forestall such an 

outcome. By the end of 1913 AT&T vice president Nathan Kingsbury reached a compromise 
with the government, the first of what would be several over the next seventy years. Under what 
became known as the Kingsbury Commitment, AT&T agreed to do three things. First, it would 
divest itself of Western Union. Second, it would stop buying up independent telephone 
companies, at least without Justice Department permission. And third, it would allow 
independent telephone companies to connect to the Bell System’s precious long lines, 
allowing customers of independents to make long-distance calls — for a fee. 

The Kingsbury Commitment appeared to be a tremendous victory for the government and 
independent telephone companies, and a huge concession for AT&T. But appearances can be 
deceiving. Tim Wu writes, “The trick of the Kingsbury Commitment was to make relatively 
painless concessions that preempted more severe actions, just as inoculation confers immunity 
by exposing one’s system to a much less virulent form of a pathogen.” In particular, Kingsbury 
traded involvement in an old industry, the telegraph, for government-approved dominion of a 
new industry, long-distance telephone. 

The Kingsbury Commitment started AT&T down the path of becoming a regulated, 
government-sanctioned monopoly. By 1925 the Bell System had coalesced into more or less 
the form that would carry the company forward for the next sixty years: American Telephone 
and Telegraph as the headquarters company and long-distance provider, Western Electric as 
its manufacturing division, Bell Laboratories as its research and development arm, and more 
than a dozen regional Bell telephone companies that provided local telephone service: New 
England Telephone and Telegraph, New York Telephone, the Bell Telephone Company of 
Pennsylvania, Pacific Telephone and Telegraph, etc. It employed almost three hundred 
thousand people and had annual revenues of $761 million in 1925 — more than $9 billion in 
today’s dollars. Its network connected about 50 million telephone calls each day for some 16 
million telephone subscribers over 45 million miles of wire and cable. 

AT&T’s vast size, clever engineering, and distinct fusion of humans and machines made this 
communication network possible. What AT&T didn’t realize was that, in building this network, it 
had also built an electronic playground. 



Dv the middle of the twentieth century the playground — that is, AT&T’s telephone switching 
network — was largely formed, at least in its broad outlines. Millions of telephone subscribers 
used it to switch their calls across the country, and even overseas, every day. Not one of them 
noticed that the telephone system was anything more than a utility, a dull, drab, predictable — 
and predictably expensive — service for getting calls from point A to point B. 

What the playground needed was someone to start playing with it. 

David Condoni would turn out to be that person. 

±A pseudonym. 

Condon was in a Woolworth’s store in 1955 when he heard a sound that transfixed him. 
Louder than the background noise of the other shoppers in the store, it was also ear catching, 
increasing in pitch and then decreasing. Not pure but warbling. If a pure musical note was still 
water, this was water with ripples in it. 

Condon scanned the store, trying to see past the other customers. Where was it coming 


He walked over to the counter, to the thing that was making the noise. 

A small electric motor and air compressor were connected to a brightly colored plastic toy. It 
was a plastic flute, about ten inches long, with a small plastic bird in a small plastic birdcage on 
it. A plastic cat on the whistle gazed longingly at the bird. As part of the Woolworth’s display, 
the motor ran the slide of the whistle back and forth while the air blew, producing the rising and 
falling pitch he had heard. A small metal clip inside the whistle added the warbling quality to 
the sound. 

“Davy Crockett Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute,” read the sign above it. A picture showed 
Davy Crockett in his trademark coonskin cap, playing his flute, while songbirds swooped down, 
attracted by the magical melody. 

It was forty-nine cents. 

It was perfect. 

The whistle soon found itself under the knife. Wire cutters snipped off the plastic birdcage, 
freeing the canary. A soldering iron melted the plastic under the canary itself, freeing it still 
further — all the way into the garbage can. 

Condon borrowed some equipment from the lab at the school where he was studying for his 
master’s degree in chemistry. He took a motor from a chemical mixer — a blender for chemistry 
labs, basically — and mounted an aluminum disc on it. He placed some tape on the disc to 
make an insulated spot that would break an electrical connection as the disc spun. He adjusted 
the speed until a borrowed pulse counter told him it was rotating twenty times a second. He 
used a signal generator to feed a precise tone through this contraption. It made a warbling 
noise, a bit like a buzz but more pleasant. He adjusted the tone until it was centered in pitch 
about two octaves above middle C: a thousand cycles per second, or 1,000 Hz, as the 
engineers say. 

He adjusted the slide on the Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute until it, too, made a 1,000 Hz 
tone when he blew it. Then he turned his attention to the bronze-phosphor metal clip in the 
whistle. He drilled holes in it until, by ear, it matched the pulses coming from his mixer-motor, 
wheel-counter setup: twenty pulses per second. 

It was going to work, he was sure of it. 

He waited for night to fall. 

Say you travel back in time to 1955. You land in Miami, the weather is nice there, and you’d like 
to call your friend Bill in snowy Denver to rub it in. Bill’s number, odd as it may sound, is Race 
2-7209. If that doesn’t seem like a reasonable telephone number to you, remember that you’re 
from the future, where telephone numbers are, well, numbers — ten-digit-long numbers, at that. 

It wasn’t always that way. On the very early switchboards at the dawn of the telephone age 
you simply told the operator the name of the person you wanted to speak to and she connected 
you. Although numbers became necessary as telephone exchanges got larger, you didn’t need 
seven- or ten-digit numbers; the original Strowger switching system used two-digit numbers to 
accommodate a hundred subscribers. And since the largest manual switchboard exchanges 
could handle only about ten thousand people, telephone numbers stabilized for a while at four 
digits. But of course a given city might have multiple telephone exchanges. Exchanges were 
named, not numbered, and often were christened with the name of the general area or street 
where they were located. So Bill might be in the Race exchange and I might be in the Atlantic 
exchange and Joe might be in the Filbert exchange, depending on which neighborhoods and 
local landmarks were prominent where each of us lived. 

This system worked great back in the days when, even for a local call, you picked up the 
phone, the operator came on the line and asked “Number please?,” you told her the number 

(“Race 2-7209”), and she connected you. No dialing involved. In some sense, this was the 
pinnacle of telephone service: as the Bell System’s official history says of this approach to 
making a phone call, “[The telephone] user’s operation had been reduced to the minimum effort 
ever achieved. He merely lifted his receiver and verbally informed the operator of his wishes.” 

This business of telephone exchanges having names created a problem when the rotary dial 
telephone arrived on scene: how are you going to dial the number Atlantic 3-3040? Is the 
telephone going to have a dial with twenty-six letters and ten digits? This problem befuddled 
AT&T for years, until 1 91 7, when one of the company’s engineers hit upon the system we’re so 
familiar with today: the letters “ABC” would be associated with the digit 2, “DEF” with 3, and so 
on. Callers would use just the first two or three letters of the exchange name plus the telephone 
number to dial a call. So Race 2-7209 would be dialed as 722-7209. “[It] seems so obvious that 
it is unbelievable that it took so long to invent, and it is difficult to realize the tremendous 
significance of this proposal when it was made,” according to an AT&T history. The result came 
to be called “two-letter, five-digit” dialing and it paved the way for telephone numbers made up 
entirely of digits. 

But back to our 1955 long-distance call from Miami to Denver. By the mid-1950s the 
telephone system had grown into an interesting blend of humans and machines. In many areas 
of the country you could dial local calls yourself, but in other places you still might not have a 
dial on your telephone — in those places the operator would handle even local calls for you, just 
as at the turn of the century. And whether you dialed your own local calls or needed the 
operator to do it for you, in most parts of the country local calls were free or, perhaps more 
accurately, were paid for as part of your flat-rate monthly phone bill. 

Not so long distance. It was expensive, of course, and, except for a tiny handful of cities with 
something called “direct distance dialing” — a newfangled service the telephone company had 
introduced in 1951 — if you wanted to make a long-distance call you had to dial 211, where a 
special long-distance operator would arrange for your call. 

So you dial 21 1 on your rotary phone to get the Miami long-distance operator on the horn. 
You tell her you want to talk to Race 2-7209 in Denver. Unfortunately for our operator — and for 
you — Miami has no direct circuits to Denver. This is not unusual; cities don’t have long-distance 
trunk lines to every other city. It’s economics: long-distance trunks are expensive to string from 
place to place and, unless those lines are going to be reasonably well utilized, the telephone 
company just can’t justify the expense. 

Don’t worry, though, your Miami operator has connections to operators in lots of other places, 
and one of those places probably has trunk lines to Denver. And if they don’t, well, they’ll have 
connections to other cities that will — kind of like the hub-and-spoke system airlines use today. 
Just like with air travel, if Bill lived in some tiny, faraway town that most people have never 
heard of, the route can get lengthy and complicated and hard to figure out, requiring multiple 
intermediate cities to get you there. A handy guidebook at the operator’s switchboard position 
provides a quick memory jogger for the most common routes. For the unusual ones, Ma Bell 
provides a special rate-and-route operator that our Miami operator can call for advice when 
she’s stumped. Rate-and-route is a phone company internal operator customers cannot call 
directly. She and her sisters are the mavens of call routing. 

Denver is easy, though, it’s a big city, and our Miami operator has that one memorized. 
Almost by reflex she reaches for a plug on her switchboard and jacks into an idle Atlanta trunk, 
connecting to her opposite number: the Atlanta inward operator. The Miami operator presses 
her “ring forward” button, sending a quick signal — brrrrp!— to get the attention of the operator up 
north. A light appears on the Atlanta operator’s board and she answers by plugging into the 
corresponding jack. The operators have a quick, almost machinelike exchange. 


“Denver, Race 2-7209.” 


The Atlanta inward operator goes through the same process to move the call down field. She 
has a direct trunk to Denver; you can hear the hiss of the long-distance noise when she plugs 
into it. A similar mechanized conversation ensues. 


“Race 2-7209.” 

The Denver operator does some quick plug-n-jack jujitsu. “Ringing.” 

Bill answers the phone. The operators drop off the circuit, their work done. You have a brief 
conversation. Remember, long-distance is actually expensive, so you can’t afford to talk for too 
long. Your ten-minute call costs $5.90, about $48 in today’s dollars. 

As it happens, you’ve just experienced the best-case scenario: the breaks were all in your 
favor and everything worked just like it was supposed to. But lots of things could have gone 
wrong. All circuits could have been busy between Miami and Atlanta, or Atlanta and Denver, in 
which case the long-distance operator would have arranged to call you back when a circuit was 
free. Even if you got through Bill might not have been home. If his phone just rang and rang, 
that would be one thing; you wouldn’t be charged a cent. But the worst would be if Bill wasn’t 
home but his mom was.When she answered the phone, you’d get charged for the call, and you 
didn’t even get to talk to Bill! Given how expensive this could be, that might be enough to scare 
you into not calling him at all. 

The phone company doesn’t like it when its customers are scared to make phone calls — it’s 
bad for business. To avoid this, AT&T offered something called a person-to-person call. With a 
person-to-person call, you tell the long-distance operator not just the number to call but the 
name of the exact person that you want to speak to. If that person isn’t home, you pay nothing. 
But the telephone company has just become a casino. If the person you’re calling is home, 
AT&T charges you an extra fee — in some cases up to twice the cost of an ordinary station-to- 
station telephone call. This double or nothing scheme made long-distance calls more palatable 
for many, especially when calling places like dorms or boarding houses with lots of people and 
only one phone. Of course, person-to-person calls also created an opportunity to cheat the 
telephone company. Say you’re a businessperson traveling across country and you want to let 
your spouse know that you’re okay, but you don’t want to pay for a long-distance phone call to 
your home. You and your sweetie agree on an imaginary name (“Josefina Q. Zoetrope”) that 
means you’ve arrived and you’re fine. When you arrive at your destination, you ask the operator 
for a person-to-person call to Josefina at your home telephone number. Your spouse answers 
and says that Josefina isn’t there. The call was free and your spouse is relieved. 

If Bill wasn’t home but it was really important to reach him, you could have the Denver 
operator leave a message for him to call you. Of course, long-distance calls being expensive, 
Bill might not want to spend the money to call you back. That’s okay, you can have him call you 
on your dime. The message left for Bill with whoever answered Bill’s phone would be 
something like, “Please call Operator Eight in Miami, there is a long-distance call for you.” 
When Bill got home, he could pick up his phone and ask to speak to Operator 8 in Miami. Long- 
distance cordboard magic would ensue and, when he finally reached Operator 8, he would give 
his name and ask if there was a call for him. Assuming she found his name in the pile of toll 
tickets on her desk, she would reply, “Yes sir, there is, let me connect you,” and then would 
complete the call back to you in Miami. That call would cost you money but it would be free to 

Darkness fell. It was time to test the modified Davy Crockett Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute. 

Condon took his whistle to a pay phone. He dialed 0 and asked for Operator 6 in Kansas 
City. He knew his local operator didn’t have direct trunks to Kansas City so she’d have to route 
his call through an intermediate operator in Chicago. He listened patiently as she set up the 

Operator 6 in Kansas City came on the line. Condon gave a name — not his own — and said 
he had received a message that there was a call for him from Kansas City. The operator 
checked her toll tickets but couldn’t find any record of such a call. Both parties expressed the 
requisite puzzlement — genuine on her part, feigned on his. Operator 6 in Kansas City 

The moment of truth had arrived. He put his Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute up to the 
mouthpiece of the telephone and blew it several times in quick succession. “Brrrrp! Brrrrp!’ He 
listened to the hiss of the trunk line as moments ticked by. 

A different operator’s voice came on the line. “Chicago,” she said. 

It worked! 

It did just what he felt so sure it would do. He had modified his Davy Crockett Cat and Canary 
Bird Call Flute to generate the special “ring forward” signal — brrrrp!— used to get the attention of 
a distant operator. This was the signal that made the lamp light up on an inward operator’s 
switchboard, the one that signaled an incoming call from another operator. Because it wasn’t 
just a pure tone — it was 1 ,000 Hz modulated by a 20 Hz warble — he couldn’t produce that 
signal with an ordinary whistle. The flute’s warble was what had caught his attention in 
Woolworth’s. The warble was what made the whistle so perfect. 

With this whistle, he figured, he would be able to make free calls anywhere in the country. All 
he’d have to do was get a pair of long-distance operators on the line, get the distant one to 
disconnect, and then blow his whistle. That would get a new, different operator on the line at an 
intermediate city. And since she could be reached only by other telephone operators, he figured 
she’d pretty much be willing to connect him anywhere he wanted. 

Although the term wouldn’t be invented for more than a decade, David Condon was a phone 
phreak, that is, someone obsessed with understanding, exploring, and playing with the 
telephone network. In 1955 he was the only one. He was on his own and would be for years. 
Eventually others would follow, and among a select group of them his whistle, and his 
discovery, would lead to his phone phreak nickname: “Davy Crockett” — the original explorer, 
the King of the Wild Frontier. 

Condon’s hearing the Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute that day in Woolworth’s was chance, of 
course. But somehow his mind made the mental plug-and-jack connection that linked it with the 
operator’s ring forward signal the instant he heard it. As the old saying goes, “Chance favors 
the prepared mind.” 

Condon’s mind started its preparations early, as early as three or four years old. “I was 
fascinated as a very young child by the fact that there was a switchboard somewheres, and 
when you picked up the phone, a voice said, ‘Number please.’ My mother used to tell me that 
that was an operator, that she was connecting you to other people.” Young Condon was 
mesmerized by the idea that there was something “out there” — a whole network, in fact — that 
could connect him to others. 

Born in Philadelphia in 1931 he gravitated toward science. “Mother had a first cousin who 
was a science teacher. I think she first got me started. One of my presents that she brought me 
for my birthday was a dry cell.” That is, a large 1 .5-volt battery, something that he could use to 
do basic science experiments — to make motors spin and lightbulbs light up. “That thing lasted 
me for years,” he recalls. 

His father was a banker and his mother, eventually, was the principal of a four-room school in 

rural Pennsylvania. Technical interests ran in the family; his dad was a ham radio operator. 
Condon recalls being eleven or twelve years old and listening to shortwave radio with his father 
at night during World War II. They could only listen, since ham radio transmissions had been 
outlawed during the war for fear of use by enemy spies. This listening could sometimes turn 
chilling. Every so often they heard the most famous rhythm of Morse code: dit-dit-dit, dah-dah- 
dah, dit-dit-dit — SOS distress signals from Allied ships in the Atlantic under attack by German 

His first telephone — at least the first one that was his own — came from an elderly couple who 
lived next door. “I used to go over there and empty the ashes from their fireplace and bring them 
a bucket of coal. They had no running water in their house except in the kitchen,” he recalls. 
Despite their lack of modern conveniences, his neighbors had something he didn’t. “They had 
two magneto telephones in their barn,” he remembers, that is, telephones with cranks that you 
turned by hand to generate a ringing voltage. They were wall mounted, with a box in the bottom 
for wet-cell batteries, the kind you put sulfuric acid in, like tiny car batteries. When the elderly 
couple passed away he inherited the phones. He took the magnetos apart and used them as 
generators, amazing his school chums by making lightbulbs glow. 

It will come as no surprise that chemistry and physics were his favorite subjects; reading, less 
so. When a book report was due he would make the trip into the central library in Philly to 
borrow a summary of the book and use that to write his report. Foreshadowing his extraordinary 
future efforts with plastic whistles, he recalls, “It was more trouble to do that than it was to read 
the book, but I thought I was getting away with something.” 

In 1 950 he left for college in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he majored in chemistry and 
mathematics. There he discovered the school library subscribed to a magazine called the Bell 
Laboratories Record. Every month it summarized Bell Labs’ latest innovations, from the 
invention of the transistor to upgrades to the telephone network. Intended for a general 
audience, it was easier to read and more accessible than the engineering-focused Bell System 
Technical Journal. 

The Record provided Condon with a great education, one that had been difficult to get up 
until then. “How you gonna find out how the telephone works?” he asks. “The operators didn’t 
have time to talk to you, they weren’t allowed to get into conversations with customers.” Sure, 
you could make friends with a repairman and learn a lot — and he did, pretty much every place 
he lived — but the Record was like a topical college seminar devoted to discussing the 
telephone network, one that was extraordinary for its breadth, depth, and currency. “They were 
proud, they tooted their own horn,” Condon recalls. 

If it seems incredible to you that a company would publish the details of its technical 
achievements and how its internal systems worked, if it seems as if today these would be 
stamped confidential and locked away and used to crush competitors, you’d be right. Indeed, 
many telephone company documents were deemed confidential — or, AT&T’s highest 
classification, restricted. But remember too that AT&T didn’t have any serious competitors. It 
wasn’t just any company: it was the telephone company, a government-regulated monopoly, a 
national institution. For reasons of corporate pride, national service, and, of course, public 
relations, AT&T felt an obligation to share its latest and greatest feats with the public. 

Armed with his Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute, Condon set about exploring the telephone 
network. He was living in Knoxville, Tennessee, at the time but quickly found the perfect place 
to carry out his experiments: the town of Oak Ridge, some twenty-five miles away. Oak Ridge 
was a strange place, one that didn’t appear on maps until just a few years earlier, despite 
having a population of more than seventy thousand people. During World War II, Oak Ridge 
was a secret town built by the Army Corps of Engineers and guarded by the military. Known at 

the time as the Clinton Engineer Works, Oak Ridge was home to three uranium separation and 
processing plants used for the Manhattan Project, America’s crash program to develop the 
atomic bomb. After the war, the town gained its name and its freedom, unlocking its gates to the 
outside world for the first time. 

Two things made Oak Ridge ideal to Condon. First, Oak Ridge had its own long-distance 
trunk lines. He figured the long-distance lines would be routed through Knoxville, the closest 
big city, “but no,” Condon recalls, “the Defense Department didn’t want that.” For security 
reasons, he believes, “They wanted Oak Ridge to be autonomous in its access to the network.” 

The second part was even better. “They did not want the possibility of people listening to 
secure calls, so they didn’t give the operators monitor keys,” Condon says. In most cities 
operators had the ability to listen to a telephone call in order to monitor its progress. But not 
operators at Oak Ridge. “As long as you didn’t flash” — that is, push the telephone hook switch 
up and down — “and didn’t leave any indication that you were through, she would leave you 
alone! It was wonderful !” 

The only fly in the telephonic ointment had to do with Condon’s chromosomes. He was a 
man, in other words, and men weren’t operators in the 1950s. This presented some problems, 
since his whistle hack revolved around the idea of getting an operator on the line and 
convincing her to do something for him. Fortunately, men were employed to do engineering and 
troubleshooting work on the long-distance lines. He quickly learned to pretend to be a test 
board engineer — “Oak Ridge number one test” was his standard dodge when challenged by an 
operator. “That sounded good,” he says. “I don’t know if there was such a thing as a ‘number 
one test board’ but they were happy to help me, once I made it sound like I was with the 
telephone company.” 

Still, there was nothing like a female voice to lull an operator into carrying out your bidding. 
Condon’s solution: girlfriends. “I would train them on what to say. We’d go out to Oak Ridge and 
we’d get on a phone that wasn’t monitorable, a pay station. You call an operator in a distant 
city, they don’t have a call for you, and when the operator releases you, you ring and hand it to 
the girl! She knew what to say. I had written it down for her.” 

With a girl and a pair of pay telephones in Oak Ridge he was set for an evening of fun. Talk 
about a hot date! “You could even call back to Oak Ridge if you wanted,” he recalls. “If there 
were two pay stations and you had a girlfriend with you, you’d call her back to Oak Ridge. You 
could ring back to Oak Ridge and talk to the person next to you over this circuit to New York, no 
ticket, no nothing!” 

But why? What would motivate a person to do such a thing? 

“Just to be able to do it,” Condon recalls with glee in his voice. “That’s the thrill of it, isn’t it?” 



vv ell before davy Crockett was taking his girlfriends on hot dates to trick operators into 
making long-distance calls, the engineers at Bell Laboratories were working hard to get rid of 
long-distance operators. In fact, they were working hard to get rid of operators altogether. 

It wasn’t because they were concerned that people like Crockett would come along and 
imitate the ring forward signal and trick operators into making free calls for them. It was simply 

that they realized, early on, that the telephone network was going to grow to a point where it 
could no longer be supported by human beings plugging cords into jacks. In the 1920s Bell 
employed about a hundred thousand operators — a big number but one that could be made to 
work. By 1965, however, they figured the company would need closer to a million operators if it 
stuck with manual switching. An AT&T historian later noted that this was not a very meaningful 
figure because “the population could not have supported such a work force.” Besides, even if 
AT&T could find enough women to staff a million operator jobs, the cost of paying them would 
be heart-stopping. 

Just like Almon Strowger before them, Bell Labs researchers realized that automation was 
the way forward. Significant inroads had already been made for local calling. By the 1950s the 
Bell System had thousands of automated telephone exchanges using switching systems based 
on Mr. Strowger’s step-by-step design, a Bell-developed system called “panel,” and a new 
arrival — a switching system developed during the 1930s called crossbar. Dial switching 
systems were becoming smarter and able to handle more calls, automatically, even among 
multiple exchanges within a city. And while manual switchboards, with their operators and 
cordboards, were still in existence — indeed, in 1955 some 15 percent of telephones were still 
older models that didn’t even have dials — it was clear their days were numbered. The 
machines were coming. 

Long distance was the big holdout, the largest bastion of human switching. Even as late as 
1960 operators were still used for about 70 percent of long-distance telephone calls. 
Automating it presented some huge challenges. 

First, it took human intelligence to figure out how to route a call from place to place. 
Remember your call from Miami to your friend Bill in Denver and the gyrations that multiple 
operators had to engage in to get your call through? That was for an easy case. God forbid, 
what would happen if Bill had lived in the tiny town of Gerlach, Nevada, way off the beaten 
path? Figuring out the route for that call would be a much harder problem. It might have 
required a consultation with the experts at rate-and-route, who would have told your long- 
distance operator the four or five cities she needed to connect through in order to make Bill’s 
telephone ring. 

Now imagine trying to build a machine in the 1930s or 1940s that is smart enough to solve 
this routing problem in a few seconds. Given a starting city and a destination city, the machine 
needs to figure out how to get the call from here to there. While it’s at it, the machine should 
come up with an alternate route in case the first route doesn’t work. But before you go off trying 
to build such a machine, please remember that the computer hasn’t been invented yet; heck, 
the transistor hasn’t been invented yet. The tools at your disposal are what Star Trek's Mr. 
Spock dismissed as “stone knives and bearskins,” that is, vacuum tubes and relays and 
mechanical switches. 

Second, even if you had magic switching machines that could figure out how to route a call 
across the country, your customers had no way to dial each other directly. Remember how, 
when you wanted to make a long-distance call, you told the long-distance operator the city 
name and the telephone number of the person you wanted? Well, the words Denver and 
Miami— to say nothing of the names of all the other cities in the United States — don’t appear on 
telephone dials. Just as it took a while for AT&T to come around to the idea that telephones 
needed telephone numbers, and then to figure out that telephone exchanges needed numbers, 
it also took a while to realize that cities needed their own numbers too: area codes, they would 
come to be called. AT&T wouldn’t have this so-called national numbering plan worked out until 

Even with switching machines and area codes there was yet another problem. The switching 

machines would need to communicate with each other over long distances, just like operators 
did. Say you’re in New York City and you want to call a number in San Francisco. The 
switching machine in New York first needs to be smart enough to know that it should get to San 
Francisco via, say, Chicago. Then it needs to connect to Chicago and communicate the digits 
of the telephone number you want to call in San Francisco. Chicago then needs to connect to 
San Francisco and pass the destination telephone number to a switching machine in the city by 
the bay. This was all information that human operators would have passed along by voice. 
AT&T researchers needed to figure out a way that switching machines could tell each other 
what number to dial and some other information, too, such as whether the person called had 
answered the telephone. In fact, they needed to build something resembling a computer 
network, a network over which switching machines could pass signaling information to one 
another. It’s just that they needed to do it well before computers and modems and the Internet 
had been invented. 

Finally, AT&T wanted to make money at this game — this is the telephone company, after all, 
not Mother Teresa — so it needed a way to bill customers. In the old days, when operators were 
manually switching calls, this was easy: long-distance operators wrote up a paper toll ticket for 
each call. These tickets were collated and processed by hand. But if machines are doing the 
switching and routing, machines need to be able to do the billing too. It wouldn’t do to have an 
automated network that could handle millions of calls a day only to have the entire operation 
bog down because humans had to tally up the bills by hand. 

All of this was an incredibly tall order in the 1 930s. Yet the crazy thing is Bell Labs got right to 
work. It would take tens of years, thousands of engineers, millions of dollars, and buildings full 
of equipment to make it happen. In the end the telephone network would be transformed into 
something previously undreamed of: it would become the largest machine in the world, one that 
would eventually extend over the entire surface of the earth. 

Perhaps the best way to follow this transformation is to start by putting your finger into the 
hole marked 7 on an old-school rotary telephone, maybe back around 1950 or so. Crank the 
dial — the actual metal dial — all the way over to the right until your finger is up against the dial 
stop. Remove your finger. A spring unwinds, spinning the dial back to the left. As it spins, over 
the course of about three-quarters of a second, your telephone sends seven electrical pulses 
down your telephone line, over the wires and cables in your neighborhood, and into one of 
several hundred Strowger switches in your local central office. 

In movie terms, that Strowger switch was Frankenstein’s monster writ small: able to follow 
simple commands — the simpler the better — but a little short on brains. Each Strowger “can” 
was a cylinder about sixteen inches high and about six inches in diameter, jam-packed with 
wipers and ratchets and pawls and blades and other mechanical clockwork. Your telephone 
dial directly controlled its musculo-skeletal system. Every one of those electrical pulses your 
phone sent down the wire made something twitch inside the Strowger switch it was connected 
to. “Twitch,” by the way, is not figurative; it is an accurate description of what physically took 
place in the switch. The digit 7 that you dialed caused a pair of metal contacts to twitch upward 
seven times, so fast that it seemed to make a brrrp noise as it went. While waiting for your next 
digit, it rotated to the right, connecting your telephone line to the next idle Strowger switch it 
could find. That next switch would then accept whatever digit you dialed next, again twitching a 
mechanism inside up and to the right. This mechanized ballet continued until you had dialed all 
the digits of your number; your last digit connected you from the last Strowger switch in the 
switching train to the actual pair of wires running to the telephone you wanted to call. 

The key thing about the Strowger system was that every pulse your telephone sent down the 
line caused something to happen in the switch — physically, immediately, and directly. This 

direct control system was innovative when it was invented in the 1890s. But in addition to 
having lots of noisy, moving parts that needed service and eventually wore out, it suffered from 
two fundamental problems. First, every digit you dialed tied up one Strowger switch for the 
duration of your telephone call. If telephone numbers in your local exchange were four digits 
long, then when you called your friend down the street and talked for an hour, you tied up four 
Strowger cans for the entire call. This meant the telephone company needed to cram a lot of 
these Strowger switches into a central office, and that was expensive. 

The other problem was that, like Frankenstein’s monster, Strowger switches were not the 
sharpest knives in the switching drawer. Because calls proceeded through a step-by-step 
switching system one digit — and one switch — at a time, no individual Strowger switch ever saw 
more than a single digit of the telephone number you were dialing. Nothing in a Strowger 
system had the big picture, and that limited what the telephone system could do. 

The wizards of Bell Laboratories gave telephone switches a brain of sorts when they 
developed the successors to the Strowger switch. Both the panel and crossbar switching 
systems used a technology that the telephone company called common control. Instead of the 
telephone directly controlling a switching machine itself, your telephone would tell the 
switching system’s brain what you wanted done and the brain would figure out how to do it. So, 
for example, in a crossbar central office, the digits you dialed on your telephone no longer 
caused the central office’s switching system to twitch directly with every pulse your phone sent 
out. Instead, your digits were stored in a relay-based memory called a sender. Once you had 
dialed the full number, the switch’s brain, the marker, could look at the digits and figure out what 
it needed to do to connect your call. Once it did this, it could forget about your call and move on 
to the next one, freeing up resources. And because the brain had the entire telephone number 
you wanted to dial in one convenient place, it could do clever tricks that a Strowger switch 
could only dream of. As Bell Labs’ head of switching later wrote, “In a word, the [switching] 
systems were acquiring a form of machine intelligence.” 

The pinnacle of that era’s telephonic mechanized brain was something called the #4A 
crossbar switch. It was another in a long line of creatively named products from AT&T, joining 
the ranks of the #1 manual switchboard, the #5 manual switchboard, the 500-series desk 
telephone, and the #1 crossbar switch. Who needs fancy product names when you’re a 
government-sanctioned monopoly? 

For what it was, the 4A deserved a grander name. Deployed in 1950, it was a triumph of 
common control switching, the most advanced switching machine created to that point in 
history. Even the word machine doesn’t do it justice: it conjures up images of a mechanical 
contrivance, something bigger than a breadbox but smaller than a car; a lawn mower, maybe. In 
contrast, the 4A took up a good chunk of a city block. Built up of rack after rack of gray metal 
cabinets filled with crossbar switches, wiring frames, markers, senders, and relays, if the 
Strowger switch was Frankenstein’s monster, the 4A was Godzilla. By 1960 there were fifty- 
nine of them throughout the United States; almost two hundred of these behemoths would 
eventually be installed, the last in 1 976. 

The 4A was to be the brains of the long-distance network, the magic switching machine that 
could automatically figure out how to route a long-distance call from one place to another. Its 
routing intelligence did not come from a computer but rather from a device called a card 
translator. Hundreds of thin steel cards, each about five inches wide and ten inches long, had 
patterns of 181 holes punched in them to indicate how a call should be routed. Based on the 
first six digits of a telephone number — the area code and the exchange number — 
electromagnets selected and dropped cards. Light shined through the holes. By seeing where 
light passed through and where it was blocked, the 4A could decide how and where to send the 

call as well as figure an alternate route if something went wrong with the first one. As the 
telephone network grew and changed, the 4A could be reprogrammed simply by changing out 
cards. Even if the 4A fell short of human intelligence, the telephone company knew that its 
common control systems were nothing to sniff at. “At the end of this era,” wrote a former Bell 
Labs executive, “Bell engineers were able to look back on the automated network of switching 
systems as the largest distributed computer in world.” 

Just like human operators, the brainy 4A switches passed calls among themselves and their 
less intelligent brethren by talking to each other. And like human operators, there were only a 
handful of things the switching machines needed to tell each other: what number to dial, 
whether the called party answered, and whether either party hung up. The telephone company 
called these latter two items supervisory information, since they had to do with how an operator 
would supervise a call. They were critically important: you can’t charge a customer for a call if 
you don’t know that the call was answered or when the parties hung up. 

AT&T enabled its long-distance telephone switching machines to talk to each other by 
teaching them two different signaling languages: single frequency and multifrequency. Both 
were based on the switching machines sending tones — musical notes, basically — down the 
telephone trunk lines to each other. The multifrequency language, or MF for short, used pairs of 
tones to communicate what digits to dial, much the same way that today you use touch tones to 
communicate to the telephone system what digits you want to dial when you make a call from a 
landline telephone. The other language, single frequency or SF, was simpler than MF, and 
although it was slower it could be used with less intelligent switching machines, such as the old 
step-by-step switches. SF used pulses of a single tone — 2,600 Hz, or seventh octave E for the 
musically inclined — to communicate dialing information: one beep to dial a 1 , two beeps to dial 
a 2, etc. In a sense, it was just like a rotary phone sending electrical pulses down a phone line, 
except that it sent beeps instead. Both SF and MF also used this 2,600 Hz tone for supervisory 
information, that is, to communicate when one machine wanted to make a call and when the 
person you were calling answered the phone so that billing should start. 

Introduced in the 1940s, MF and SF were high tech for their time. The multifrequency system 
was speedy, taking only a second or so to transmit a ten-digit telephone number from one 
switch to another. The tones sounded like fleeting musical notes and customers could 
sometimes hear the quick little blips of MF digits as they waited for their calls to go through. 
AT&T began acting like a proud parent of a musically gifted child. Magazine ads in 1950 
showed a musical scale with the pairs of notes that made up each MF digit and described the 
system as “playing a tune for a telephone number.” Telephone bill inserts bragged about MF 
and the tones were featured in an educational AT&T movie as well. In a flight of fancy, one 
telephone company manager told the press that new AT&T switching machines “sing” to each 

The cleverest thing about SF and MF signaling was this: they allowed the switching 
machines to communicate by using the exact same wires that humans used to talk to each 
other. AT&T had spent millions of dollars running long-distance cables all across the United 
States. These cables were designed to carry voice, since that’s what AT&T’s human customers 
and operators used speak to one another. Instead of building a separate computer network for 
its switching machines, AT&T realized it could reuse its existing long-distance telephone 
circuits to carry both human voice anc/signaling information for each call. This would cost less 
than building a separate network and would be faster to deploy. This approach, called in-band 
signaling, meant that signaling information was sent in the same frequency band and over the 
same wires that were used for voice. It was an elegant and economical solution to the problem. 

With the crossbar switch and the multifrequency signaling system, AT&T could embark on 

the next phase of automating long-distance switching, something called operator distance 
dialing. The idea here was to allow operators to directly dial long-distance calls, even if 
customers couldn’t. If you wanted to call coast to coast, you’d still call the long-distance 
operator. But instead of the operator having to plug cords into jacks and talk to other operators 
and build up a lengthy chain of connections, circuit by circuit, she would just key in the area 
code and telephone number on a keypad on the console in front of her. The switching 
machines would do the rest, routing the call and talking to each other with MF or SF to set up 
the intermediate links. If the place she was calling couldn’t be reached by just keying a number 
into her console, she would use the machines to get her call as far across the country as she 
could and then enlist the help of a plug-and-jack manual inward operator who was closer to the 
final destination. 

Operator distance dialing simplified and sped the dialing of long-distance calls — good for 
customers since their calls went through more quickly and good for the phone company 
because it needed fewer operators to handle more calls. But it also provided AT&T with an 
opportunity to work the kinks out of automated long-distance switching without having to 
directly involve its customers. The long-distance operators became the first users of the new 
automated long-distance network — beta testers, we’d call them today. Or, as they were called 
by an AT&T spokesman at the time, “guinea pigs.” 

The guinea pigs survived and AT&T decided the kinks had worked out enough to let the 
customers try it themselves. On November 1 0, 1 951 , the small town of Englewood, New Jersey, 
became the first place in the country where customers could dial their own long-distance calls. 
Instead of dialing 211 and telling the long-distance operator they wanted “Garfield 2-2134 in 
San Francisco,” lucky Englewood residents instead picked up the telephone and dialed ten 
digits themselves: 318-GA2-2134. Their local telephone switch would take this number, find a 
trunk to the remote city, and then send the musical MF notes down the line to get the call across 
the country. In essence, the local telephone switch acted as a sort of translator, taking the digits 
you dialed with your rotary phone and converting them to the telephone network’s internal 
language of MF tones. (It worked the same way when touch-tone dialing was introduced years 
later: the local switch translated the touch-tone digits you dialed on your phone into MF digits 
that it sent into the long-distance network; this was necessary because touch-tones weren’t the 
same as the MF tones.) Best of all, all this happened in seconds, not the minutes that used to 
be required when operators were involved. 

To start with, Englewoodians were able to directly dial some 11 million people in 
Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Oakland, San Francisco, 
and Sacramento. Over the next twenty years customer long-distance dialing — later known as 
direct distance dialing, or DDD — spread across the country, with more and more customers 
able to dial their own long-distance calls. The largest machine in the world was growing, and 
the engineers at Bell Laboratories were finally getting their wish: a fully automated long- 
distance network, one where calls could be dialed coast to coast without operator intervention. 

It would turn out to be a classic case of that old expression “Be careful what you wish for.” 



alph Barclay was walking through the engineering library at Washington State College, just 

minding his own business, when it called out to him. He couldn’t say why, it just did. 

It was a booklet, about seven by nine inches and maybe half an inch thick, on display in the 
library’s new periodicals section. Its pale blue cover proclaimed it to be the November 1960 
issue of something called the Bell System Technical Journal. It had been out for less than a 

Barclay looked at the table of contents printed on its cover. Most of the articles could put even 
the hardest of hard-core geeks to sleep at twenty paces: “Magnetic Latching Relays Using 
Glass Sealed Contacts,” “Molecular Structure in Crystal Aggregates of Linear Polyethylene,” 
and the ever popular ‘“Ionic Radii,’ Spin-Orbit Coupling and the Geometrical Stability of 
Inorganic Complexes.” 

Yet one title caught his eye: “Signaling Systems for Control of Telephone Switching.” He 
flipped to the article and started skimming. Minutes passed. His original purpose for coming to 
the library shelved for the moment, he sat down and began to read in earnest. 

Barclay was just eighteen. Athletic and of medium build, with brown hair and blue eyes, 
Barclay had started his first year at Washington State’s Pullman campus, about fifty miles south 
of Spokane, just a couple of months earlier. “I was living in the dorm,” he remembers, “and a lot 
of people in the dorm are looking for ways to make cheap phone calls home to their girlfriends 
and parents and suchlike.” One of the guys in the dorm had — “somehow,” he says — acquired 
his own personal pay telephone. And although students weren’t allowed to have telephones 
installed in their rooms, for some reason the dorm rooms had telephone lines in them. 

Barclay’s dorm had quite a few engineers in it, and engineers, Barclay allows, are a problem. 
The engineers soon determined that somebody had left the door unlocked to the building’s 
telephone closet, the little room where all the telephone wires come from. In the dark of night an 
operation was mounted. Certain wires were cross-connected. Et voila: a pay telephone line 
from somewhere on campus ended up connected to the personal pay phone in Barclay’s dorm. 
Barclay and the other kids in the dorm could now make telephone calls by depositing money in 
the pay phone, as usual, but the difference was that the owner of the pay phone — apparently 
not a business major — was a nice guy and returned the caller’s money after each call. 

Maybe it was this pay phone hack that caused bells to ring in Barclay’s brain when he 
spotted the article in the Bell System Technical Journal. It laid bare the technical inner workings 
of AT&T’s long-distance telephone network with clarity, completeness, and detail: how the 
long-distance switching machines sang to each other with single-frequency (SF) and 
multifrequency (MF) tones, how 2,600 Hz was used to indicate whether a telephone had 
answered, what the frequencies were of the tones that made up the MF digits, how overseas 
calls were made, and it even included simplified schematic diagrams for the electrical circuits 
necessary to generate the tones used to control the network. It was all there. Nothing was 

By the time Barclay finished reading it, the vulnerability in AT&T’s network had crystallized in 
his mind: “I thought, this is a better way than using a pay phone . . . this is a way to get around 
all that other stuff and do it directly.” 

“It,” of course, was making free calls. 

The ability to absorb sixty-four pages of dry, technical mumbo jumbo and spot the 
vulnerability is a rare one. The engineers from Bell Labs who designed the system and wrote 
the article didn’t see it. Thousands of engineers in the future would read that article and not see 
it. But eighteen-year-old Ralph Barclay did. The funny thing about it is, once the hole is 
explained to you, it’s obvious. But until it’s explained to you, most people would never think of 
it. Certain people have minds that are tuned in a particular way to see things like that. Ralph 
Barclay was one of those people. 

To understand Barclay’s insight we have to think back to the things that made up AT&T’s 
automated long-distance network, things like the spectacularly named #4A crossbar switching 
system that was the brains of the long-distance telephone network and how the machines 
talked to each other by speaking in tones. Because that’s what the Bell System Technical 
Journal described and that’s where Ralph Barclay spotted the flaw. Here’s what he came up 

Say you’re in Seattle and, as always, you want to call your friend Bill in Denver. With 
Barclay’s hack, your first step is to pick up the phone and dial directory assistance in any city — 
let’s say New York just for fun: 212-555-1212. Unlike today, calls to directory assistance were 
free back then. 

Seattle and New York are both big cities and have direct trunk lines between them. On a 
given long-distance trunk line between Seattle and New York, the switching machine in Seattle 
sends a 2,600 cycle per second tone — seventh octave E — to New York to indicate that the line 
is idle. New York sends the same tone back to Seattle to indicate that the line is not in use on 
its end either. Remember how in a flight of fancy an AT&T manager described the switching 
machines as “singing” to one another? This is the boring part of that song; you can think of it as 
the machines monotonously whistling this single note back and forth. It’s almost like they’re 
keeping each other company, reassuring each other that they’re both still there. 

As you dial the last digit of the number for New York directory assistance, the fancy switching 
machines and their signaling systems spring to life to get your call through. Seattle finds an idle 
trunk to New York and stops whistling 2,600 Hz on it. New York hears the trunk go silent, 
indicating that Seattle wants to make a call. New York sends back a “wink” signal — really just a 
moment of silence, of no 2,600 Hz tone, for about a quarter of a second. This wink tells Seattle 
that New York is ready and waiting for Seattle to tell it a phone number to call. Using either the 
SF or MF signaling language, Seattle sends New York the digits 555-1 21 2. In SF-speak, this is 
a series of beeps of 2,600 Hz. In MF-speak, it consists of nine quick little pairs of tones that 
sound like brief musical notes: KP, 555 1212, and ST. The special signal called KP (“key 
pulse”) at the beginning tells New York to get ready, and the final note, ST (“start”), tells New 
York that it has all the digits and can start dialing. 

Now that New York knows the number you want to call, it makes the local connection and the 
directory assistance operator’s telephone starts to ring. Up until now everything that has 
happened has been perfectly normal, just like Ma Bell intended. But now you, using Barclay’s 
hack, insert yourself into the process. Before the operator can answer, you — naughty you — hold 
a speaker up to your phone’s mouthpiece and play your own 2,600 Hz tone down the line for a 

It is loud and pure and it sounds like this: bleeeeeeep. 

Seattle isn’t paying any attention to this, but the switching machine in New York sure is. New 
York hears your 2,600 Hz tone loud and clear and thinks that the Seattle switching machine 
sent it. And since this tone indicates the trunk line is idle, New York figures that Seattle is done 
using that trunk line, probably because you hung up. New York disconnects the call to the 
directory assistance operator — maybe before she’s even answered. 

But now you stop sending your tone. When you stop sending 2,600 Hz, the long-distance 
switching equipment in New York City thinks that Seattle wants to make another call. Just as 
before, New York sends a wink back to Seattle to say it’s ready for a new call. Due to the nature 
of the circuitry involved, the wink has a bright, metallic ringing quality to it. It sounds like this: 

The noise tells you that you have just fooled New York into thinking that a new long-distance 
call is coming in. Once again, the switching machine in New York is waiting for Seattle to tell it 

what digits to dial. But Seattle isn’t going to tell it anything, because Seattle is blissfully 
unaware of everything that has just transpired. The only thing Seattle knows is that you haven’t 
hung up — you’re still on the line, after all — and Seattle believes you can make only one call 
every time you pick up the phone. As far as Seattle is concerned, you’re still talking to New 
York’s directory assistance. 

You, on the other hand, know better: you possess guilty knowledge. Using a simple 
electronic circuit, you can generate the same pairs of tones that Ma Bell’s telephone switches 
use to serenade each other. Once again holding up a speaker to your phone, you play the 
tones needed to send New York the digits KP + 303 722 7209 + ST — that is, the number of your 
friend Bill in Denver. Now, of course, area code 303 isn’t in New York City, but that’s okay. The 
telephone switch in New York is a brainy 4A and knows how to route calls from one place to 
another. After all, Bell Labs worked hard to give it the brains to be able to do that. New York 
happily finds a trunk line to Denver and puts your call through, sending out tones on your behalf 
to instruct Denver on what number to dial. Moments later Bill’s phone starts to ring. 

Congratulations, you’ve just hijacked a phone call to directory assistance in New York and 
rerouted it to Bill in Denver. But that’s only half the trick. The other half is this: your phone call to 
Denver is free. Why? Because Seattle is responsible for the billing of your phone call. As far as 
Seattle is concerned, you’re still connected to directory assistance in New York and directory 
assistance is a free call. 

Barclay had three insights when he read that article in the Bell System Technical Journal. 
The first was that sending a 2,600 Hz tone down the telephone line resets the remote switch but 
doesn’t affect the local switch. The second was that you could then reroute a phone call from 
the remote switch to wherever you want. And the third was that the local switch is in charge of 
billing, so it continues to bill you for whatever call it thinks you originally made. With these three 
insights he now owned Ma Bell’s network. 

A few weeks after reading the Bell System Technical Journal article Barclay made the three- 
hour drive west to his hometown of Soap Lake, Washington, population 1,200. Home may be 
where the heart is, but for Barclay home was also where his workbench, soldering iron, and 
electronic components were. “I was an electronic tinkerer for years and years and years,” he 
says. A curious one too; his older sister remembers Barclay plugging a bobby pin into an 
electrical outlet when he was four. His father, a truck driver in rural Washington, used to bring 
him broken TVs to fiddle with, and his bedroom was littered with electrical equipment, 
telephones, and radios. Barclay landed his first job — repairing broken radios — when he was in 
the fifth grade. 

Barclay’s first box took a weekend to build. It was a simple affair, housed in an unpainted 
metal enclosure about four inches on a side and perhaps two inches deep. Inside was a nine- 
volt battery and a single transistor oscillator circuit. On the outside the box sported a surplus 
rotary telephone dial and a red push button. The red button would allow Barclay to disconnect a 
call in progress — to “seize a trunk,” in both telephone company and phone phreak parlance — 
by producing a 2,600 cycle tone for as long as he held it down. When spun, the rotary dial 
would make short blips of 2,600 Hz. If Barclay dialed the digit 6, for example, it made six short 
beeps. In other words, it would allow him to send digits using the older single-frequency 

“I was surprised!” Barclay recalls. “It worked fine the first time!” 

As it happens, it also worked best the first time. Barclay quickly ran into a problem. By 1960 
fewer and fewer trunk lines used SF signaling. In its push for progress and dialing speed, the 
Bell System was well on its way to converting most long-distance trunks to multifrequency 
signaling. And those trunks didn’t respond to Barclay’s single-frequency beeps. The red button 

still worked — he could disconnect a call in progress and hear the kerchink come back from the 
remote end — but dialing was often a problem. “It worked sometimes, not consistently,” he says 
— maybe one in four calls. 

“That’s when I discovered I needed multifrequency,” he says — that is, he needed to generate 
pairs of tones for each digit as well as for the special “key pulse” and “start” signals. Barclay 
started work on his multifrequency box over Christmas break. It was more complicated than the 
first box, what with more transistor oscillators and associated wiring and all that, so it took a bit 
longer to build. 

Barclay added a rotary dial for making blips of 2,600 Hz, but that was just for old time’s sake; 
the real way you’d dial with it, the modern way, was with push buttons. Touch-tone phones 
weren’t a commercial reality yet, so Barclay had to come up with his own telephone keypad. He 
ended up using keys from an old mechanical Burroughs adding machine. Each key was 
fastened to a push-button switch mounted underneath it. There were twelve keys in all: ten for 
the digits 0 through 9, one for the KP signal that needed to be sent before the digits, and one for 
the ST signal that needed to be sent after the digits. 

He had it finished by Easter and it worked like a charm. He and his device became popular 
among a small circle of friends in his dorm, where he made calls home for them. But mostly, he 
says, he used it to play with the telephone network, “to see where we could call.” As Barclay 
remembers it, “There were very, very few calls I made that were actual phone calls” — that is, 
calls he made to somebody he knew and wanted to talk to. 

His new device was housed in a metal box, twelve by seven by three inches, that happened 
to be painted a lovely shade of blue. Barclay did not know it at the time, but the color of his 
device’s enclosure would eventually become synonymous with the device itself. The blue box 
had just been born. 

Back home for the summer, Barclay ran into another problem: his hometown, Soap Lake, was 
served by GTE — General Telephone and Electronics — one of the independent telephone 
companies separate from the Bell System. For whatever reason, GTE’s switching and signaling 
equipment just didn’t work with his blue box. Fortunately, Barclay’s summer job was at a 
television and radio repair shop in the town of Ephrata, some five miles down the road. Those 
five miles made all the difference for Ephrata was in Bell territory and his blue box worked like a 
champ there. 

The shop where he worked was two blocks down the street from a friend’s photography 
studio. In exchange for a few free calls, his friend was happy to let Barclay’s blue box live in the 
rear of the studio. If Barclay felt like playing around he could pop over to the studio on his lunch 
hour, walking down the alleyway running behind the buildings so he could come in through the 
back door; no need to disturb customers at either business by going in and out the front door. 

That summer was a fun and productive one for learning about the telephone network. Barclay 
made friends with a kid who lived in Seattle and whose dad worked for the telephone company. 
“He happened to furnish me with a copy of the ‘Rate and Route’ book,” Barclay says, the loose- 
leaf binder of telephone routing information that operators used to figure out how to get calls 
from here to there. “I was able to use that to access more areas. We actually tried it for overseas 
calls and were able to do some calls to England.” Unfortunately, Barclay reports, “I didn’t know 
anybody in England to call.” 

Barclay had some other friends whose parents worked for the telephone company and he 
mentioned to one of them that he was interested in learning more about how the phone system 
worked. Was there any way he might be able to get some surplus telephone equipment, he 
asked? “Oh, sure,” Barclay recalls his friend’s dad saying. Pacific Telephone turned out to be in 
the process of converting a nearby switching office from three-digit dialing to a more modern 

five-digit system. “If you want to drive over there, I’ll make arrangements,” his friend’s father told 

Barclay recalls pulling up at the telephone company central office in his dad’s pickup truck 
and chatting with the switchman there. 

“What are you interested in?” the switchman asked. 

“What have you got?” Barclay replied. 

As it happened, quite a lot. “I ended up taking home the whole three-digit telephone 
exchange,” Barclay says. It was soon set up in his garage. 

Summer drew to a close. It was September 15 and Barclay was scheduled to return to 
Washington State College for his sophomore year. He dropped by the photography studio that 
morning to pick up his blue box. His friend the photographer asked if Barclay could leave it for a 
few more hours and come get it after lunch. There were some calls he needed to make, he said. 
No problem, Barclay replied. He returned to the TV repair shop. 

About noon that day, two gentlemen entered the repair shop and asked for Barclay by name. 
This was unusual, since he was back-office help and not really known to the customers. The 
gentlemen then produced a warrant for his arrest on charges of bookmaking. This was even 
more unusual, given that he wasn’t a bookmaker. The utter bafflement is evident in his voice 
even forty years later: “I mean . . . bookmaking ?” 

Barclay accompanied the men down to the local courthouse where he was interrogated by 
an assortment of unhappy-looking people: a sheriff’s deputy, an FBI agent, a security agent 
from Pacific Telephone, a security agent from AT&T, and an engineer from Bell Laboratories. 

Barclay recalls, “The first questions were, ‘Who are you working for? Who’s the head of this 
operation?’ I remember spending quite a while trying to convince them that I wasn’t working for 
anybody.” His interrogators weren’t buying. They knew that Barclay’s partner — the guy who 
owned the photography studio, who had also just been arrested — spent lots of time on the 
phone talking about horses. (As it turned out, he owned a horse and photographed horse 

“Finally,” Barclay says, after several hours of grilling “they decided that maybe this wasn’t a 
bookmaking operation and they started asking different questions.” Questions like: where were 
you calling? “I repeatedly said, over and over and over again, to friends, to New York, to find out 
what time it was in New York.” The time in New York? C’mon kid, you don’t expect us to 
believe that, do you? Eventually the Bell Labs engineer cleared his throat and spoke up. The 
company had the details of all the calls Barclay made, he said, and he confirmed that very few 
of them were to actual people. Most were to test numbers, or recordings, or various oddball 
telephone company internal numbers. 

The investigators threw up their hands. “We’re not going to get any further on this,” Barclay 
recalls the FBI agent saying. They turned to the Bell Labs engineer: “Find out where he got the 
information to make this stuff.” 

Barclay told them about the Bell System Technical Journal. “I remember one of them looked 
at the guy from Bell Labs and said, ‘Could that be possible?’ The Bell Labs guy said, ‘Yeah, 
there was an article . . .’” 

In the end the bookmaking charges were dropped, replaced with a misdemeanor: making a 
phone call without paying for it. It was a speedy trial, Barclay recalls. 

The judge asked, “Did you actually do this?” 

“Well . . . yeah,” Barclay said. 

“Where did you get the information?” 

“Out of a book,” Barclay replied. 

The judge turned to the Pacific Telephone security agent and asked if indeed the phone 

company had published this information. Yes, they had, he said. 

The judge turned back to Barclay. “Where’s this blue box of yours?” 

“The phone company took it,” Barclay said. 

Back to the security agent. “Is this true?” 

“Well, yes,” he said. “It’s been taken back to Bell Laboratories for analysis.” 

“Will he get it back?” the judge asked. 

“I don’t think it’s going to be returned,” said the security agent. 

The judge rendered his verdict. “When I was a kid,” he said, “we used to freeze water into the 
shape of nickels to put into pay phones to make long-distance calls. This is nothing more than a 
new and ingenious way to do the same thing. I can’t see making a big case out of this. You 
pleaded guilty. I’m just going to give you a suspended sentence.” 

“The [Pacific Telephone] investigator wasn’t too happy with that,” Barclay says. 

An AT&T memo states that the Barclay investigation began when someone noticed “an 
unusual pattern of 555-1212 calls.” Barclay can pin it down further: calls he made to a 
nonworking directory assistance telephone number in Canada. 

“Back then the Bell System was trying to give good service,” Barclay remembers. As part of 
that effort, directory assistance operators often answered on the first ring — sometimes, in fact, 
before the phone seemed to have rung at all. And that meant Barclay would have to whistle his 
2,600 Hz when a live human being was on the other end of the call, something he didn’t like. “I 
always was a little bit nervous about disconnecting when there was a real person on the line,” 
he says. “I discovered in playing around that if you called information in the 407 area code, 
which was Alberta, Canada, you got a recording that said, This number is not in service.’” That 
seemed perfect to Barclay because it was a free call but didn’t involve live human operators. 
407-555-1212 became his go-to number. 

Later, a contact he made at the telephone company in Ephrata told him that the switching 
machines were set up to print out a “trouble card” every time a call was made to a nonworking 
number. Before April 1 961 , his contact said, the nonworking information number in Alberta was 
getting about twenty calls a month from Barclay’s area of Washington. In April it went to fifty 
calls. After April it went up to about two hundred calls a month for the rest of the summer. 

“They didn’t know where they were coming from,” he says, but they started investigating more 
seriously. By the middle of August investigators had tracked it down to Ephrata. By September 
1 they apparently had zeroed in on the photographer’s studio. 

That timing lined up with another thing, Barclay says. Sometime during the first week of 
September Barclay wanted to make a call using his blue box. He walked down the usually 
deserted back alley between the TV repair shop and the photography studio. “I remember, there 
was a black car that was parked in the alleyway with two guys that were just sitting there.” 
Barclay entered the photography studio and made his call. When he came back out, he says, 
“the car was still there, and the two guys were still sitting there. I thought that was strange that 
these people were just sitting in the alleyway.” 

The vulnerability that Barclay had discovered with AT&T’s network stemmed from decisions 
that Bell Labs engineers had made in the 1930s and ’40s when they were designing the long- 
distance network. When they needed to find a way for their switching machines to communicate 
with each other, they decided to reuse the voice path that customers used to talk over. But this 
mixing of signaling and voice over the same channel carried with it a giant flaw: if you could 
hear the tones the machines were making, they could hear you. And that meant you could 
spoof them. All you had to do was mimic the tones they used. 

Worse, AT&T had been deploying switching and signaling equipment based on this design 

since the 1940s. Now, twenty years later, there was a large installed base of equipment that 
had this hole in it. And this installed base was hardware, buildings full of machines and 
equipment and electronics. Today, when Microsoft finds a security flaw in its Windows 
operating system, it can push out a software patch and have things fixed relatively quickly. No 
such luck for AT&T’s switching equipment back in the day. Its “operating system” was 
electromechanical, and updating it would require physical changes, possibly redesigning and 
removing and replacing the equipment wholesale. 

It was a flaw that would cost millions, possibly billions, of dollars to fix. It would be discovered 
again and again over the following twenty years. The question for AT&T was: what do we do 
about it? 



It was a Sunday morning — the last Sunday morning in April 1959, as it happens — and 
something approximating a miracle had just occurred. At least it seemed that way to Charlie 
Pyne, a fifteen-year-old high school student in Marblehead, Massachusetts. A few months 
earlier, a man from the telephone company had come to his family’s house and replaced their 
telephones. The old phones had no dials. The new ones did: shiny black metal rotary dials. 

The dials on the new phones didn’t do anything at first. You could spin them and they’d spin 
back, the phone making a clicking noise from its earpiece. And that was all. But things changed 
that Sunday morning. The night before, somewhere in the bowels of the telephone company, 
someone flipped the million-dollar switch that enabled the metal dials on the phones in 
Marblehead. Yesterday, Pyne would have had to lift the handset of the telephone and politely 
ask the operator to connect him with his buddy Rick a few blocks away. Today, he could dial 
Rick’s number himself: NEptune 1-1559. 

To Pyne, this really was close to a miracle. The miracle part was because it was so cool not 
to have to deal with the operator. But it was only close to a miracle, because the dialing 
instructions from the phone company said that there were really only a handful of places you 
could call with these newfangled phones: Marblehead and three adjacent towns, Salem, Lynn, 
and Swampscott. That seemed lame. A real miracle would be if you could call anywhere with 
the new phones. That\Nou\6 be cool. 

Charlie Pyne was a technical kid. Slightly heavy for his five-foot-nine frame, with respectably 
short brown hair and brown eyes, Pyne had been interested in electronics since a young age 
and had earned his ham radio license a few years earlier. He was no stranger to playing with 
things, to taking them apart, to seeing what they could do, to using them in ways that others 
hadn’t thought of. Pyne played around a bit with the new phone that Sunday morning, first 
dialing his friends and later just dialing numbers at random to see what would happen. When 
he dialed a nonworking number he’d get what the phone company called a crybaby: a loud 
tone that went up and down and sounded sort of like woo-ahh, woo-ahh. 

Pyne found himself wondering about the new phone. Did every number other than those in 
Salem and Marblehead get you a crybaby? Or were there maybe some other places you could 
get to that the phone company hadn’t told them about? 

If idle hands are the devil’s tools, then a clever teenager with idle hands and a methodical 

personality is the devil’s munitions factory. Pyne knew that the first three digits of a local 
telephone number were called the exchange and that there might be several exchanges in a 
city. He also knew that, for whatever reason, exchanges were never given the numbers 000 
through 1 99. And he knew that exchange numbers didn’t have 0 or 1 as the second digit. 

Out of one thousand three-digit numbers, that left 640 possible exchange codes. Pyne made 
a list. And then he started dialing, one number in every exchange. 220-1212. 221-1212. 222- 
1212. And on and on. He ended every number in 1212 because, for some reason he can’t 
explain, he found it easier than dialing 1111. 

Pyne listened to a lot of crybabies — he was a persistent kid. On the ninety-second try, with a 
slightly sore index finger, something interesting happened. When he dialed 331 -1 21 2 he didn’t 
get a crybaby. Instead, a woman’s voice answered: “Boston.” 

Pyne hung up. 

He continued his dialing experiments over the coming weeks. He found a few other 
interesting exchanges. He also spent a lot of time playing with the 331 exchange, eventually 
dialing most of the numbers in it. It was a strange place, populated with special telephone 
operators and weird tones and odd dicky noises. 331-1312 went to a directory assistance 
operator, 331-1412 was answered by a woman who identified herself as “rate and route,” 
whatever that was, and 331 -1 020 gave a loud, continuous tone. 

Pyne finally got up the courage to call back the operator who had answered the phone 
“Boston” at 331-1212. He asked her who she was. She said she was the Boston inward 

Pyne hung up again, having just learned a valuable lesson: you could know something’s 
name yet still have no idea what it was. 

A few months later Pyne was at an electronics junk dealer in Salem called Young Engineering. 
While browsing the surplus electronics on the shelves, he met another teenager who was also 
looking for cheap bits of used electronics. Paul Heckel was a tall, heavyset kid with a slightly 
unkempt appearance, a ready smile, and a funny, high-pitched laugh. Oddly enough, Heckel 
and Pyne had both grown up in Marblehead; they had attended the same high school, in fact. 
Their paths hadn’t crossed until then because Heckel was a couple of years older than Pyne 
and was now off at MIT, majoring in electrical engineering. 

They quickly became friends. Heckel took Pyne on a trip to see MIT’s new IBM 7090 
computer and to check out Eli Heffron’s, the premier electronics surplus store in Cambridge. 
Pyne was soon telling Heckel about his dialing experiments. Heckel’s sister was a telephone 
operator and was able to fill in a bunch of details for Pyne, such as what an inward operator 
was and what a rate-and-route operator did and what they could do for you. 

Before long Pyne, Heckel, Heckel’s sister, and Pyne’s buddy Rick Turner were in Pyne’s 
basement making calls via the Boston inward operator. Heckel’s sister was an asset to their 
games: in addition to her knowledge of the telephone system, she was a girl. For most fifteen- 
year-old boys, that might be reason enough, but Pyne realized that her female voice meant that 
calls she placed went through unquestioned. The boys learned that they had to pretend to be 
engineers working on the test board. 

There was just one problem: they didn’t really have anyone to call. Indeed, most of their calls 
were to telephone company test numbers, to operators, or to one another. They were 
particularly proud of one call — so much so that they recorded it. It started with their old friend at 


“Milwaukee inward please,” said Turner. 

Boston inward was suspicious that day. “Where are you calling from?” she asked, an edge in 

her voice. 

“Marblehead test board,” Turner replied, his voice 100 percent bored telephone company 

There was a pause as she put the call through. Click. The noise on the line got louder. Ring. 

“Milwaukee,” said the distant operator. 

“Milwaukee, this is Boston test board,” said Turner. “Could you put me through to Portland 
inward please? Portland, Oregon?” 

“Portland, right.” Telephone company operators were trained to use the word right, much like 
military radio operators are trained to say roger. 

Ten seconds went by. “Portland,” said the operator in Oregon. 

Turner had the Portland operator connect him to the Denver inward. Then he had the Denver 
inward call Little Rock. At Little Rock he asked to be connected to New York. And when he got 
to the New York inward he asked for Boston. 

“Boston.” The voice was buried in noise but the operator’s Boston accent was still 

“Could you get me a number in Marblehead, please? Neptune 1 -981 9.” 

Ringing. “Hello.” 

“Hello, Charles!” 

Turner had successfully routed a call from Pyne’s house, across the country, and to a nearby 
pay phone — about 5,600 miles to go several hundred yards. 

The junior and senior years of Pyne’s high school career were spent at Governor Dummer 
Academy, an elite boarding school with a funny name twenty-five miles north of his hometown. 
Pyne describes Governor Dummer as near-Dickensian. “We couldn’t go home on weekends,” 
he says, and “we had to say prayers before meals.” The worst part of being away at boarding 
school was being out of touch with his girlfriend Betsy. But thanks to 331, it didn’t have to be 
that way; he taught Betsy how to call him at school by pretending to be an operator. “I was 
soooo scared that someone was going to come and arrest me,” Betsy says. “I would go to a 
phone booth and put in my dime and dial 331-1212 . . Betsy would ask the operator to 
connect her to a pay phone in Pyne’s building. The use of a pay phone on Pyne’s end wasn’t a 
security measure as much as necessity; he simply didn’t have a phone in his room at school 
and a lobby pay phone was all that was available. 

In 1962 Pyne left the confines of Governor Dummer and went on to enjoy the vast freedoms 
of Harvard University. That fall, Pyne made his way into the basement that housed Harvard’s 
student-run radio station. He was a radio geek, after all, so getting involved with the radio 
station seemed like a natural extracurricular activity. Pyne didn’t know it, but WHRB was much 
more than a radio station. As the journalist and alum Sam Smith wrote, “It also functioned as a 
counter-fraternity, a salon des refuses for all those who because of ethnicity, class or inclination 
did not fit the mold of Harvard. Other organizations sought students of the ‘right type,’ WHRB 
got what was left over. Eccentric WASP preppies, Brookline Jews, brilliant engineers, persons 
obsessed with a musical genre, addicts of show business or their own voices, seminal 
journalists, future entrepreneurs, prospective advertising executives, and persons of heretofore 
unrequited imagination and energy filtered through the door in the alley known as Dudley 
Gulch to become part of The Network.” 

Pyne found a home in the WHRB engineering department. It was there that he met Tony 
Lauck, a sophomore, and Ed Ross, a junior. Similar to Pyne in build, Lauck had blue eyes and 
blond hair that was slightly longer and a bit unruly, as opposed to Ross who was thinner and 
taller but whose brown hair was already receding; a girlfriend of his predicted it would all be 
gone by the time he reached thirty. (“She was only about seventy percent right,” he says.) Pyne 

recalls being impressed by his new acquaintances: “They’re the type of guys that came into 
college with 1600 board scores and advanced placement.” And while he and Lauck were both 
ham radio operators and electronics tinkerers, Ed Ross was a music maven and mathematical 
prodigy who prided himself on not knowing anything about electronics. For example, to legally 
operate the radio transmitter at WHRB, you were supposed to have a first-class radiotelephone 
operator’s license — called a “first phone” license — issued by the Federal Communications 
Commission. The exam for this license was a rite of passage for electrical engineers back in 
the day, requiring a strong knowledge of electronics and radio theory. “Ed Ross didn’t even 
study. He went and took that test and passed it, just from the logic of the multiple choice 
questions,” Pyne says. 

It wasn’t long before Pyne realized something: “These guys are going to be interested in 
telephone stuff.” 

The campus telephone system was their gateway drug. Back in the day it was common for 
big organizations to connect their telephone switches via “tie lines,” that is, private trunk lines 
run between the different telephone systems. So, for example, if you dialed 83 on a Harvard 
telephone, you’d hear a pause and then a dial tone. You were now connected to MIT’s 
telephone system via the tie line, allowing you to dial an MIT extension. This allowed, say, a 
Harvard professor to easily reach a colleague at MIT — often at a lower cost. But if you were 
Pyne or Lauck or Ross, you saw a maze of twisty little telephone passages, all ripe with 
possibilities for exploration or prankery. Okay, dial 83 to get to MIT. Now what? What if we dial 
83 here? Oh, look, that connected us back to Harvard! Hey, if we dial 83 repeatedly we can tie 
up all the lines between the two schools. Wheel 

That was fun once. More interesting, though, was figuring out where else you could dial. The 
phones at WHRB provided the three convenient access to the campus telephone system. They 
spent lots of time dialing every code they could think of, just as Pyne had done several years 
earlier when he was exploring the telephone system in his hometown of Marblehead. 

“From Harvard you could get a tie line to MIT, and from MIT there was one that went to 
Lincoln Labs, and from Lincoln Labs you could get to MITRE, and from MITRE you could get to 
IBM Kingston, and from IBM Kingston you could get to Stewart Air Force Base, and it went on 
and on, trying to put these connections together,” Pyne says. “This whole process was mainly 
for our fun and amusement. We weren’t too serious about making free phone calls or anything 
like that. It’s not like we had a lot of people we wanted to call.” 

“The most useful technological discovery we made was that you should use a pencil for 
dialing, and not your finger,” Ross remembers. “After a couple of hours it is much less painful if 
you’re not putting your finger in the dial holes.” 

Dialing around the tie-line system was addictive, like solving a never-ending chain of 
puzzles. First you had to figure out a code to get you somewhere. Then you had to figure out 
where that somewhere was. And then you had to figure out if there was anywhere interesting 
you could get to from there. And sometimes there were interesting places to visit that you 
couldn’t dial directly: lots of organizations had manual switchboard operators who could 
connect you to places you couldn’t get to with dialing. “If you dialed 0, you’d get the operator,” 
Pyne remembers. “Lots of times, you’d call the operator, you’d say, We’re testing, we’re doing 
this and that, can you tell me about your switchboard and what’s on your switchboard?” With a 
few white lies you could find out all the places she could connect you. 

At the start of his freshman year, Pyne had signed up for Fine Arts 13, Harvard’s introductory 
art appreciation class, also known as “Darkness at Noon” for its darkened room with dozing 
students and slide shows of classical artwork. Within a couple of weeks Pyne decided it was 
“the stupidest thing I ever signed up for.” His Fine Arts 1 3 notebook was unmolested, free of any 

writings except for the course title penned on its cover. It was quickly repurposed as the journal 
in which Pyne and his friends recorded their telephonic research; it would grow to more than a 
hundred pages. 

They made a map, a diagram of circles and arrows, that showed who was connected to 
whom in the tie-line network. It wasn’t just schools; the map made clear the close ties among 
academia, industry, and the military of the period. Indeed, the label on the very first circle on the 
map said, in capital letters, nike control — the control center for the Nike missile air defense site 
in New England. 

At one point during their map making Pyne found himself connected to the operator at 
Hanscom Air Force Base outside of Boston. He did his usual routine, making a bit of small talk 
and then asking her for the names of the other places she could reach from her switchboard. 
She obligingly recited a list of locations, ending with . . and Stewart and Rome,” in other 
words, Stewart Air Force Base and Rome Air Depot, both in New York. 

Pyne misheard her. To him it sounded like she said . . and Stewart and Jerome.” Why 
would an air force operator have direct switchboard connections to two guys named Stewart 
and Jerome? How utterly random. 

The names rapidly became a running gag among the group. “We started joking about 
Stewart and Jerome, these mythical characters,” Pyne says. “What are Stewart and Jerome 
doing today?” they’d ask each other. Ed Ross was particularly good at inventing Stewart and 
Jerome stories. “Oh, I talked to Jerome today,” he would say, followed by a detailed soliloquy 
regarding Jerome’s latest adventures. 

“Over a period of time we realized there were any number of ways in which telephones and 
telephone systems were interesting,” Ross remembers. “It was interesting to see how this 
strange and mysterious thing worked. And the more we got to know it, the stranger and 
mysteriouser it was.” He adds, “Over the course of that academic year it became, as 
undergraduate things do, an obsession.” 

They soon graduated from tie-line dialing to harder drugs. Pyne told them about the 331 test 
number exchange and how he used it to reach inward operators. Before long they were making 
trips to Boston’s Logan Airport to conduct their research; 331 was a local call from Logan, plus 
the airport was great because it had tons of pay phones and you wouldn’t arouse any suspicion 
by constantly being on them. But 331 was somewhat limited: you could reach the inward 
operator and a few other places but not much else. And, besides, Pyne had already been 
through it with a fine-tooth comb. They wanted a bigger playground to explore. 

Pyne had gotten his hands on a copy of the 1 956 edition of a Bell System book called Notes 
on Distance Dialing. As Tony Lauck describes it, Notes “was an overview of the architecture of 
the long-distance telephone network that was written from the point of view of an engineer at an 
independent telephone company. So it described all the ways area codes were assigned, the 
way the various types of signaling worked, what the tones were, what the frequencies were, 
and all of this kind of stuff.” It wasn’t exactly secret but it wasn’t widely available — unlike the 
Bell System Technical Journal or the Bell Labs Record, it wasn’t in most engineering libraries. 

The Harvard kids spent a bunch of time studying Notes on Distance Dialing, but they couldn’t 
quite make the pieces fit together. For example, Notes talked about multifrequency signaling 
and even gave the frequencies of the two tones that made up each digit; it explained about the 
key pulse (KP) and start (ST) signals too. The good news was that WHRB had an audio 
oscillator, which they quickly pressed into service as a tone generator. The bad news was that 
WHRB had only one audio oscillator, so they couldn’t generate the two simultaneous tones 
needed for multifrequency signaling. They did have a tape recorder, however. Lauck recalls, 
“We had recorded one of the oscillators and we had dubbed it back on top of it on a strip of 

tape, all the various multifrequency tones. ... We had tape rolls of zeros, and tape rolls of ones, 
and tape rolls of nines, and tape rolls of key pulse, and tape rolls of start. . . . And we could 
splice these together with splicing tape and play them through a tape recorder and it would 
sound very much like the tones you would hear when you were making a long-distance phone 
call in that era.” 

They tried mightily to use their spliced tapes to make calls using MF — to no avail. They 
would make a local call and press play on the tape recorder and send their tones down the line. 
Nothing. They’d make a long-distance call and try the same thing. Still nothing. “We knew we 
had the tones right,” Lauck says. “But every time we played these tones nothing would happen.” 

They kept at it. Lauck recalls, “On one particular day we swept the oscillator up to 2,600 while 
we were dialing into an information service someplace, or some sort of a useless free call. And 
we heard this . . . disconnect, a click, and then a bomp or a babump or some sort of a noise.” 
They didn’t know what it was, exactly, but they knew something important had just happened. “I 
looked at Charlie and he looked at me,” Lauck remembers. “When we heard this thing go 
kerbunkwe just sort of had this intuitive feeling that, yeah, now was the time.” 

A tape was cued up on the tape recorder, loaded with “KP 212 121 ST” — the eight quick MF 
tones required to call the inward operator in New York City. “When we heard this bonk sound 
we flipped the selector switch on the preamp and pushed play on the tape recorder. It went, dee 
de de de de de de dup and then the operator came on and said, ‘New York.’ 

“After struggling with this tape for maybe two or three days and playing it in various ways and 
getting nowhere, all of a sudden when we heard this funny little sound, we had put the system 
in a new state. We knew that was it,” Lauck remembers. 

They had proven it could work. Now they needed to build an electronic box to generate the 
tones on command rather than dorking around with bits of audiotape. “We had some junk parts, 
Charlie had a bunch of switches,” Lauck says. They built an audio oscillator, reusing the 
vacuum tubes from Lauck’s stereo amplifier, basing their design on a circuit from the radio 
amateur’s handbook. It was a bulky thing on a metal chassis, Lauck remembers, “But within 
twenty-four hours, ’cause we didn’t get much sleep, we had this thing working and we could 
then key in whatever numbers we wanted.” 

Lauck believes it took them longer than it should have. “See, part of the thing that made it so 
difficult was that we didn’t think it was really possible. We didn’t think they would have been so 
stupid as to design the system where we could get into the signaling of the system. So even 
though we knew the signaling tones were in-band tones, we didn’t think that was going to 
amount to anything. We didn’t understand that the 2,600 Hz signal could be passed straight 
through. . . . We didn’t think it was possible.” 

“The next idea was to make a more miniaturized one,” says Pyne. “And that’s where Heckel 
came in.” Paul Heckel was two subway stations away at MIT, still majoring in electrical 
engineering. Heckel told them, “Not only can I make you one much more miniaturized and 
transistorized, but we’ll pot it” — that is, the components would be coated in epoxy so that 
nobody would be able to tell what was in it. “Heckel was the main guy who built that,” Pyne 
says, though Lauck and Pyne assisted in its assembly. Pyne remembers returning to Harvard 
on the first subway train from MIT’s Kendall Square station around five a.m. after pulling an all- 
nighter in Heckel’s dorm room working on the transistorized blue box. He vividly recalls spilling 
an assortment of resistors all over the floor of the train, scrambling around trying to find all the 
pieces and put them back in their container. Electronic component mishaps notwithstanding, 
they soon had a tidy little portable blue box, suitable for telephonic field trips. 

Ultimately, they realized they could combine their blue box with the 331 test number: dial 331 
plus any four digits, send a burst of 2,600 Hz down the link, and then use the blue box to MF 

whatever digits they wanted. The beauty of this setup was that 331 was a local call, and 
because the phone company didn’t bill for local calls it didn’t bother to keep records of them 
either. This, they figured, meant they were less likely to get caught than, say, calling 555-121 2 
in distant area codes. 

“Now the only problem would be, sort of, ‘Well, you’ve solved the problem!”’ Pyne recalls with a 
laugh. “Now what do you do? You don’t really want to call anybody.” But, he says, “you still 
want to be researching more interesting things. 

“Somehow that got us thinking, ‘Well, what about receiving calls?”’ They had figured out how 
to make free outgoing calls; indeed, they had solved that problem six ways from Sunday. But 
maybe they could figure out a way to receive calls that would make it free for the caller? 

By now they knew that the secret to telephone billing was whether the called telephone 
answered, that is, went off hook. That’s what 2,600 Hz indicated, after all: whether a phone was 
hung up or not. Pyne recalls their thinking, “What if you received a call but you never went off 
hook? Wouldn’t that mean that the calling party wouldn’t be billed for the call?” 

Pyne says, “So we wound up building a very simple box, which was basically a capacitor on 
the line so you could pass the voice through but not the DC through.” He knew that a change in 
direct current was how the phone system detected that a phone had answered, so if you 
blocked DC, you blocked the telephone company from knowing whether you had answered the 
phone. This approach worked, to a point. It did let them talk while the phone was still ringing it, 
but it also let the ringing signal through, and the ringing signal was much louder than the voice. 
As Pyne says, “You had to talk between the rings.” And that, they all agreed, was lame. 

They pressed on. “A lot of these things are just sort of by accident,” Pyne says. At some point 
they were fooling with the circuit they had built and somebody took the phone off hook for a 
moment — the phone was picked up for a fraction of a second and then hung up again. The 
ringing instantly went away. But they could tell from the sound of the telephone line that billing 
hadn’t started. They had discovered another unlikely glitch in the phone system: although the 
billing equipment and the ringing signal were both controlled by the phone going off hook — in 
other words, ringing stopped and billing started when you answered the phone — the timing on 
the two was different. The ringing signal stopped the very instant you answered the phone. But 
billing didn’t start unless the phone stayed off hook for several seconds. 

This gap in timing meant that they had just solved their latest research problem. “We said, 
Oh!’ Pyne recalls. If they took the phone off hook for just a second, “it’s long enough to make 
the ring go away but not long enough to activate the billing. So then we built this little box, you 
just go click [with a switch] and you get rid of the ring. And now somebody could call you and 
talk a little while and when they hang up they get their dime back or they don’t get billed.” Pyne 
and his friends didn’t know it at the time, but this simple device had been discovered by others 
a few years earlier. The telephone company called it a “black box”; it would later come to be 
called a “mute.” 

They were rapidly running out of stuff to research. Bored and looking for something to do, they 
decided to borrow some musical instruments and see if they couldn’t stage a live concert that 
would please the telephone system. If a blue box generated just two different musical notes, 
couldn’t you do the same thing with a pair of flutes? 

The trio soon found themselves gathered around a telephone, instruments in hand, trying to 
play 2,600 Hz followed by the MF tones for KP + 121 + ST. “We were able to generate the 
tones using some wooden baroque recorders” — flutelike musical instruments, Lauck says. “It 
actually did work,” Pyne remembers. “The 2,600 was easy, you could just whistle that. The 
flutes weren’t really a practical way to do it, but we proved that it could be done.” Lauck adds, 

“We were laughing so much it was not very effective.” 

“We started getting maybe a little bored with it, and we started getting a little loose,” Pyne 
remembers. “We started being a little bit more open about telling people what we had 
discovered.” Everybody at the WHRB radio station knew about their playing with the phone 
system, for example. 

It was around this time that, through some other students they didn’t know very well, “we met 
a guy by the name of Ernie Reid,” Pyne remembers. “Reid worked for the phone company, he 
was kind of like a repairman-type guy.” Reid was very interested in what the Harvard kids were 
up to. “He said, This is very interesting, this is cool, what are you doing? I could get you 
keypads, I could get you equipment . . .’ He kind of ingratiated himself with us and asked a lot of 
questions.” At his request, they loaned him the Fine Arts 1 3 notebook. 

Pyne didn’t give any of this too much thought, as it was starting to dawn on him that he had 
other things to worry about. Ever since the group had been working on their telephone 
research, Pyne’s grades had gone into the toilet. Sure enough, a bit later that month, Pyne got a 
phone call telling him to see his dean. With final exams right around the corner, there was no 
way a sudden request to speak to his dean could be anything good. 

Pyne told Lauck about the meeting. “That’s funny,” Lauck responded. “I’m supposed to see 
my dean at nine a.m. tomorrow too.” 

Hmm. Lauck was an excellent student, so this wouldn’t be about his grades. 

Pyne and Lauck called Ed Ross. Sure enough, Ross had a nine a.m. appointment with the 
headmaster of his dormitory. The clincher? Paul Heckel also had a nine a.m. appointment, and 
he was at an entirely different school. 

It didn’t take a genius — much less several geniuses — to figure out they were busted. 

“We had always realized that this stuff was not totally above board, people might look 
askance at our doing this,” says Ross. Still, he says, “we never took it horribly seriously.” The 
summons from the school officials suggested it might be time to reevaluate that sentiment. They 
scheduled an emergency meeting that evening at the Boston apartment of a mutual friend to get 
their stories straight. As Pyne recalls it, the gist for the group was: “What story are we going to 
tell these deans? Can we conjure up a story that will sound plausible and innocent?” After 
much discussion they concluded that, as Pyne puts it, “There’s no story that you could make up 
that you could consistently tell that would be any more innocent than just the truth.” So that’s 
what they decided to do: they would simply tell the truth. They went their separate ways, the 
stress of the evening and tomorrow’s impending meetings aggravated by Ross’s car running 
out of gas on Boston’s Storrow Drive on the way home. 

At nine o’clock the next morning — May 10, 1963 — each student went to his respective 
appointment. Each meeting was in a different location. Tony Lauck remembers that the staff in 
his dean’s office “seemed pretty alarmed” when he arrived. Their alarm was caused by the two 
men there to interview him: “There was one tall one and one short one, they were both wearing 
trench coats, one was nice and the other was nasty, and they were both from the FBI.” 

The same scene played out in the other locations. No deans or headmasters, just Ross, 
Pyne, Lauck, and Heckel, each interrogated by two FBI agents. “I was totally flabbergasted by 
people flashing FBI badges,” Pyne says. He was quickly introduced to the time-honored 
interrogation technique called good cop/bad cop. One of the two FBI agents interviewing him 
“was nasty,” Pyne recalls. “He was pushy, he was questioning me. And the other guy was just 
the nicest guy in the world. The first guy would go out . . . and the second guy would say, ‘Isn’t it 
nice to be here at Harvard? And what are you studying?’ He was just very pleasant. And then 
the other guy would come back in the room.” 

Periodically one of the agents would step outside and, apparently, coordinate with the other 

FBI agents by radio or telephone. The agents had done their homework, brandishing thick 
dossiers on the students. Indeed, the FBI had apparently gone to the trouble of tailing them, 
Ross remembers. The FBI agents knew about their meeting the night before, including their 
running out of gas on Storrow Drive. They tried to explain their research project as an innocent 
hobby; as one of the students put it, “Some people collect stamps.” But they were thrown by the 
focus of the FBI agents’ questions. “They were particularly concerned about the activities via 
MIT Lincoln Labs, MITRE, and the defense department phone system,” Ross says. Ross felt 
this was the least technically sophisticated thing the group had done, so he wasn’t sure why the 
FBI agents were so interested in it. After all, it was nothing special, just dialing around. Still, he 
remembers, “they concentrated on that.” 

It slowly dawned on all the students that the FBI was convinced that it had stumbled upon an 
espionage ring. The FBI agents, it seemed, didn’t really care about AT&T and long-distance 
phone calls and blue boxes and whatnot. Rather, they thought Pyne and company were spies. 

The agents drilled them on one point in particular, over and over again: Who else was 
involved? The answer they got back was always the same: “Just us!” The nasty one of Pyne’s 
two FBI agents wasn’t buying it. “What about Stewart and Jerome?” he finally demanded. “We 
know they’re involved!” 

“I almost broke up laughing,” Pyne remembers. It was at that point, Pyne says, that “we knew 
that they had either read the Fine Arts 13 notebook, which mentioned Stewart and Jerome, or 
more likely had tapped our lines.” 

The FBI had been investigating Pyne and company for about three weeks, it turned out, ever 
since the telephone company brought the matter to their attention. Ernie Reid, the telephone 
company repairman who had befriended them and who had borrowed their Fine Arts 13 
notebook, was the source of the trouble, passing the notebook on to the security department of 
New England Telephone and Telegraph. “His motives were to make a big deal out of this,” 
Pyne says. “He told them things that weren’t even true, that we were trying to get the keys to 
Franklin Street [the headquarters of the telephone company in Boston], that we were interested 
in defense things, and NORAD . . .” 

If Reid’s goal was to make a big deal, he succeeded. Within days Peter Mason, the head of 
New England Telephone and Telegraph security, and his deputy, John Desmond, had 
contacted the FBI. According to an FBI memo, Mason and Desmond had been reviewing the 
Fine Arts 13 notebook “and felt that this should be called to the attention of the FBI since it 
contains information concerning tie lines from various defense establishments in the Boston, 
Mass. Area, in addition to tie lines to defense establishments in other areas of the country such 
as Lincoln Laboratory, Raytheon Company, Arthur D. Little Company, Hanscom Air Force 
Base, Millstone Radar Installation, IBM, . . . MITRE Corporation . . . and General Electric 

The phone company’s main concern was the specter of widespread electronic toll fraud. As 
the FBI memo put it, “Mr. Desmond furnished a copy of the subject’s notebook . . . They 
requested that the information contained in this notebook not be disseminated at this time since 
it was felt by the telephone company that any dissemination outside the Bureau could lead to 
wholesale use of telephone company facilities at no cost.” 

In contrast, the FBI was more concerned about national security. The possibility that the 
Harvard kids were a spy ring was not entirely ludicrous; 1963 was a scary year, with charges 
and countercharges of espionage flying back and forth between the Kremlin and the White 
House. At the time, the FBI was deep into an investigation of a Soviet spy ring in New York and 
Washington, D.C., and just two years earlier the British courts had convicted five people in a 
damaging Soviet espionage operation. Indeed, Kim Philby, the so-called third man of 

England’s notorious Cambridge Five spy ring, defected to the Soviet Union that very January; 
like Pyne and company at Harvard, the Cambridge spies had all attended one of their country’s 
top universities. Could the FBI have stumbled onto the Harvard Three? 

The Boston FBI office contacted the local U.S. attorney to see if the students could be 
prosecuted for making free phone calls. The answer was no. The U.S. attorney in Boston said 
that the facts did not constitute a violation of the Fraud by Wire section of federal law and that 
was the only statute he could see being relevant. But why were these kids so interested in 
defense facilities? On May 1, the Boston office asked FBI headquarters for permission to 
interview the students “to determine . . . any possible violation of the Espionage Statute.” In 
Washington, the FBI polled each of its divisions — Domestic Intelligence, Special Investigative, 
Laboratory, and General Investigative — to coordinate their investigation. 

A week went by. The phone company was getting antsy; according to an urgent FBI teletype 
message, “[Telephone] company is most anxious to learn today if Bureau desires to interview 
subjects before telephone company conducts own interview. States [Telephone] Company 
losing revenue and practice of fraudulent calls is spreading.” 

On May 7, the Domestic Intelligence Division decided it was time to interview Pyne and 
company. The memo from an FBI national security official was remarkably evenhanded, 
allowing that the students’ interests might be perfectly innocent: “It is possible that this is an 
instance of two brilliant mathematicians [Pyne and Ross] embarking on an unusual research 
problem, finding initial success and now endeavoring to ascertain just how far they can go with 
this work.” Still, the memo continued, “Their interest in defense establishments, however, does 
indicate [a] potential security problem. They or others, if full access to defense establishment 
lines is obtained, could cause the lines to be jammed or could use them to transmit false 
messages or tie up the circuits. In view of this possible harm to our national security, it is felt we 
should take steps to ascertain definitely why the subjects are engaged in their telephonic 
endeavors and, specifically, to determine what is their interest in the military installations 

The FBI agents came and went in one day. “I think they were maybe a little bit pissed that they 
were dragged into something that was a college prank,” Pyne says. 

Now it was AT&T’s turn. 

“We had to go see this guy by the name of Desmond,” Lauck says. “He was some person in 
charge of AT&T security in Boston. ... He was going to really nail our ass for stealing phone 
calls and all the rest of this. We were going to be prosecuted.” This seemed ridiculous to Lauck. 
Stealing phone calls? Really? “We never actually made any phone calls that anyone in their 
right minds would ever pay two cents for,” Lauck says. Ed Ross agrees: “None of us had 
anyone else in the world to speak to.” The students soon invented a nickname for their 
telephone company tormenter. “We came to call him the Evil Desmond,” Pyne says. 

Tony Lauck had an uncle who was a lawyer and a banker in Philadelphia and who used to 
play golf with the head of Bell of Pennsylvania; a call was placed asking if he might be able to 
somehow smooth matters over. Similarly, there was an old friend of Charlie Pyne’s parents who 
was the chairman of the New England Electric Company; perhaps he could help? The old 
friend said he knew the president of New England Telephone and Telegraph and would make 
a phone call and report back. Pyne remembers getting a phone call about ten minutes later, in 
which the chairman of New England Electric said, “Would you please call me back from a pay 
phone?” Pyne did so. “He told me that his friend the president of New England Telephone 
knew all about this,” Pyne says, “and it was a big deal and in all likelihood our telephones were 
being monitored” — hence the request to use a pay phone. 

Maybe it was the string pulling or maybe the telephone company had simply thought better of 

prosecuting Harvard students, something that might end up blowing up in its face. What the 
phone company didn’t need, after all, was for the details of this to get out in the news so that 
more people would know about how easy it was to make free calls. Either way, Lauck recalls 
their next visit to the Evil Desmond. “He looked really pissed,” Lauck says. “He was just 
seething with rage that these so-called rich kids or whatever were going to be able to get away 
with this and he was not going to be able to nail our asses for anything.” 

That did not stop Desmond from grilling the students. They were to write a detailed report for 
the telephone company, setting forth exactly what they had done, the details of the 
vulnerabilities in the system they had found, even giving suggestions for how to combat fraud in 
the future. And they had to get rid of their blue boxes. The transistorized unit that Heckel built 
wound up in the Charles River. As for the one that Pyne and Lauck had built using tubes from 
Lauck’s stereo, Desmond and a sidekick showed up in person at Lauck’s dorm room in order to 
watch it being dismantled. 

In the end, the only serious result of the entire episode was that Pyne was told he needed to 
take a year off from Harvard. This was a pretty common occurrence, Pyne says: “You didn’t 
have to do much to have them ask you to take a year off.” An unexpected plus was that it stood 
him in good stead with his girlfriend Betsy — the girl he had taught to impersonate an operator to 
call him at boarding school — who says now, “I thought it was great. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this 
is the most wonderful person in the world, he’s so brilliant!”’ Betsy’s mother thought likewise. 
Pyne’s mother was somewhat less enthused. 

The Harvard students solved many mysteries during their research. But their discovery by the 
telephone company and the FBI solved one final mystery for Pyne’s freshman adviser, Robert 
Watson, who wrote the following when he filled out the form for Pyne’s year-end review. 

Pyne has been an enigma to me all year. I’ve spent more time with him trying to understand his problems than the 
combined time I’ve devoted to all my other freshmen advisees. In an attempt to arouse his motivation I've used my 
entire bag of tricks to little avail. Then suddenly two weeks ago all was made clear when we learned from the FBI and 
Telephone Company of his tampering with the whole telephone system. Instead of studying, night after night all year 
long he and three other Harvard students with the cooperation of an MIT student have been discovering ways to beat 
the Telephone Company and how the whole system works. No wonder his studies have suffered. From what I now 
know he has been pursuing this interest for years. If he once settles down and really applies himself, there’s no 
question in my mind that he can do the work. In fact, he possesses a vast knowledge of electronics in general and the 
telephone operation in particular. Surely this should stand him in good stead. 

The evaluation form included a query about Pyne’s probable academic concentration. 
“Engineering Sciences,” Watson wrote. 

The form went on to inquire, “Do you consider this to be a wise choice?” 

Watson filled in the form honestly, if dryly. “I’m inclined to think so now,” he wrote. 



Itwasthe early 1960s and AT&T was starting to get a headache. 

Actually, that should read headaches, plural. 

First there was the growth-in-electronic-toll-fraud headache. It wouldn’t have been so bad if 
whiz kids like Barclay and Pyne were the only ones who had figured out blue and black boxes. 
But they weren’t. Other people were starting to discover the holes in AT&T’s network. And no 
one, even within AT&T, could say with any certainty exactly how widespread the problem was 

or how fast it was growing. 

Then there was the how-are-we-gonna-fix-our-network headache. In the past twenty years 
AT&T had already spent more than $1 .4 billion in building out its long-distance network, with its 
2,600 Hz and in-band multifrequency signaling. This signaling system was fundamental to the 
network in the same way that a concrete foundation is fundamental to your house. For AT&T, 
finding out that its network was vulnerable to teenagers with tone generators was a bit like 
discovering that you’ve poured the foundation of your house on top of a nest of some new kind 
of concrete-eating termites. How much would it cost and how long would it take to reengineer 
the long-distance network to be immune to blue and black boxes? 

Third was the how-do-we-deal-with-the-phone-phreaks headache. Should we have them 
arrested? Sue them? But it seems like every time we do something, the newspapers pick it up 
and carry a story about it. That means more people know about it. And that probably means 
more phone phreaks. Maybe it’s better just to keep things quiet for now. 

The icing on the cake was the oh-crap-what-if-it’s-not-really-illegal headache. AT&T 
attorneys had studied the matter and were worried there was no federal law that clearly made 
these telephone shenanigans illegal. Most states had laws that were probably applicable, but 
these varied from state to state. This was a new kind of crime and the laws just hadn’t caught 
up with it yet. 

Where’s that bottle of Tylenol again? 

People were starting to discover Ma Bell’s secret. Most were high school or college students, 
but it wasn’t just Barclay and Pyne and the others at Harvard and MIT. In 1963 newspapers 
covered the story of a “brilliant but disturbed teenager” from Ohio who invented a device to 
“bypass operators” and had called all over the world. In 1964 there was a small epidemic of 
electronic toll fraud cases. Hoyt Stearns and friends at Cornell University, John Treichler at 
Rice University, a former engineering student who had attended Stanford and Columbia: all 
had figured out Ma Bell’s secret. The stories were virtually identical: clever high school or 
college kids figure out the hole in AT&T’s switching system, explore the network, are caught, 
and get slapped on the wrist. 

Unfortunately for AT&T, college and high school students had no monopoly on clever. 
Another pioneer in the field was a Los Angeles-area businessman, electrical engineer, and 
former army communications officer named Louis MacKenzie. Perhaps you’ve been to the Los 
Angeles International Airport and heard the repeating tape recordings made famous by the 
1980 movie Airplane!— the ones that droned on and on: “The white zone is for the immediate 
loading and unloading of passengers only . . .”? If so, you have MacKenzie and his company, 
MacKenzie Laboratories, to thank for the invention of the machine that allowed those 
recordings to play, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. 

MacKenzie was no stranger to the idea of using tones for signaling. His firm had been hired 
by Walt Disney in the 1950s to build tone-based equipment to remotely control animated 
special effects at Disneyland. Perhaps that was what gave him and a colleague of his the 
insight needed to spot the vulnerability revealed in the 1960 Bell System Technical Journal 
article. Sensing a business opportunity, he approached the phone company about it, offering 
his firm’s services to fix AT&T’s problem — for a price. AT&T declined. Soon thereafter, in 1963, 
MacKenzie’s attorney appeared on the CBS evening news, waving around a blue box and 
talking about the giant flaw in the telephone system. MacKenzie, meanwhile, started a side 
business manufacturing and selling blue boxes, something that he would later note was legal 
in California at that time. 

And then there were the people who built the mysterious “suitcase blue box,” a thing of 
beauty that befuddled the boffins at Bell Laboratories. A small attache case that looked like it 

came straight out of a James Bond movie, it was crammed full of cool telephone gear, all 
lovingly mounted: a rotary dial, a keypad, an audio level meter, switches, an auto dialer — a plug 
board that allowed you to program one frequently called number using a rat’s nest of jumper 
wires — and, of course, a built-in blue box too. The workmanship was exquisite, as if it had 
rolled off the assembly line of a professional manufacturing facility — which perhaps it had. Bell 
Labs was certain that a number of these had been produced, possibly a large number, but was 
not sure how many or who was making them or where they came from. Investigators had leads 
suggesting that they originated in California, perhaps manufactured on a navy base 
somewhere. As to who was buying them, that they were convinced of: the mob. Who else could 
it be? What else could explain the cartoon — set smack in the center of the rotary dial on one of 
the boxes — of a laughing mobster chomping on his cigar? 

If it were just a handful of clever people figuring this stuff out, that might be one thing. But the 
contagion was threatening to spread more widely via ads, like one that appeared in 1 963. 

Slash Communication Costs with TELA-TONE 

You’ve been reading about it. Now you can build it yourself. No license required to operate. 5,000 mile range. 

Complete details, $5 or money back. Tela-tone, Box 4304, Pasadena, Calif. 

Or the following gem from the January 1964 hobbyist magazine Popular Electronics: 

TOLL Free Distance Dialing. By-passes operators and billing equipment. Build for $15.00. Ideal for Telephone 

Company Executives. Plans $4.75. Seaway Electronics, 631 1 Yucca St., Hollywood 28, California. 

“Ideal for Telephone Company Executives.” Whoever got mail at 6311 Yucca Street in 
Hollywood seemed to have a sense of humor. Formerly the offices of Variety, Hollywood’s 
leading newspaper, 6311 Yucca by the early sixties had become the mail-order headquarters 
of dozens and dozens of questionable enterprises, such as Seaway Electronics (blue box 
plans), Preview Records (vanity recording studio), Man International (false beards and 
mustaches), C. Carrier Co. (spy equipment), Holley Co. (old scripts from movies and TV 
shows), Vanguard Galleries (artwork); the list went on and on. AT&T had a chat with the owner 
of Seaway Electronics. “The advertiser has admitted that about 149 copies of these plans were 
mailed out,” read a subsequent AT&T memo. “He increased the price of the plans to $7.50 and 
bulk-mailed at least 8,950 copies of [a one-page ad for blue box plans], mostly to amateur radio 
operators in New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, 
and California.” 

Swell. So now that’s almost nine thousand more people who know the network is vulnerable. 
Great, just great. 

You would think that making a free call using a blue box or a black box would have to be 
illegal, right? I mean, how could it not? Oddly enough, however, no single law really nailed it. 
Individual states had a variety of laws that were — or might be — applicable. But that meant 
AT&T had to become expert in the laws of fifty different states and, besides, it was crazy that it 
might be legal in one state and not in another. What AT&T needed was a single federal law that 
was broadly and clearly applicable and that made the whole enterprise illegal, end of story. 

The law that came closest was Title 18, Section 1343, of the United States Code: “Fraud by 
Wire.” Section 1343 made it illegal to transmit over a wire and across state lines any “writings, 
signs, signals, pictures or sounds” for the purpose of fraud. Now, what does a blue box do? It 
sends tones — that is, sounds or signals — over a telephone line — that is, wires. Usually these 
tones are sent across state lines — it’s a long-distance phone call, after all — and usually the 
telephone company is getting defrauded of revenue in the process. Seems like an open-and- 
shut case. 

Alas, when AT&T attorneys met with Justice Department representatives in February 1964, 

one of the Justice lawyers who actually helped write the Fraud by Wire law said he didn’t think 
it was intended to apply to blue and black boxes. Section 1343, he said, was designed to 
protect people from being swindled over the telephone — something like a bad guy calling up 
your grandma and selling her bogus life insurance; that’s what was meant by “fraud by wire.” It 
was never intended to protect the phone company itself from being defrauded. In fact, there was 
a law similar to 1 343 (Section 1 341 , as it happens) that covered mail fraud, and that law did not 
cover fraud against the United States Postal Service itself. Separate laws had to be written and 
enacted to deal with that problem. 

Then there was the black box problem. Unlike blue boxes, black boxes didn’t send signals or 
sounds down the wire. In fact, they actually prevented the sending of a signal that the phone 
had answered. Moreover, this signal usually didn’t cross state lines as the signal was between 
a telephone and its local central office. So using 1343 to go after black box fraud seemed like 
tough legal sledding. 

The Justice Department lawyers said the government was generally unwilling to prosecute 
toll fraud cases under Section 1343. Indeed, the most the boys at Justice would agree to was 
using 1343 to prosecute organized crime, if organized crime could ever be shown to be using 
blue or black boxes, and even that was only because the Organized Crime and Racketeering 
section wanted it done. 

None of this was helping AT&T’s headache. AT&T attorneys met with both the Federal 
Communications Commission — the FCC, the people who regulated the telephone system — 
and the Justice Department the next year. Their goal: get a federal law passed specifically 
prohibiting fraud due to blue boxes, black boxes, or any other colored boxes the bad guys might 
think up in the future. They even came with proposed legislation in hand: a two-hundred -word 
run-on sentence that made illegal just about any conceivable fraud perpetrated against a 
telephone company. While the lawyers were at it, their proposed new legislation also outlawed 
making, possessing, selling, giving, transferring, or offering for sale a blue or black box or any 
other “instrument or apparatus” that could be used for telephone fraud. AT&T argued that “a 
criminal sanction is needed which gets at the source of this fraud, namely, the clandestine 
manufacture and sale of these devices, which are now carried on with impunity.” 

AT&T’s proposal was met with a cool reception. “The proposed legislation has too broad a 
sweep,” wrote the FCC attorneys in an internal memo. “It would attempt to outlaw not only such 
physical devices but would purport to outlaw all other actions by ordinary users of the service 
that might conceivably be construed as a trick, scheme or false or fraudulent representation, 
pretense or credit device to avoid payment.” The Justice Department was no more sympathetic: 
the chief of the Fraud Section of the Criminal Division expressed “lack of enthusiasm for the 
proposal on the ground that it would tend to make the [Justice] Department a collection agency 
for selected instances brought to them by the phone company.” Who could blame Justice for not 
wanting to be AT&T’s revenue rottweiler? The telephone company screws up and builds a 
network that’s wide open and now somehow the Justice Department and the FBI are supposed 
to clean up the mess and go after the fraudsters? 

AT&T left its meetings empty-handed, no new law in sight. 

All of these things forced AT&T to think about the unthinkable: would it have to redesign the 
entire nationwide telephone network and install a new signaling system? 

This was a huge question. The estimates of the costs for such a redesign varied from a 
quarter of a billion to a billion dollars (between $2 billion and $8 billion today). It would take 
years to deploy whatever new signaling system its engineers came up with. After all, the design 
of the original system had taken decades, starting in the late 1920s and with effort in earnest 
during the 1940s and ’50s, and that deployment was still years from being finished. While the 

company was deploying whatever new system it came up with, the network would still be 

Then there was the niggling question in the back of the minds of AT&T’s leaders, namely, 
what if the new system also turned out to be vulnerable? As one person familiar with the matter 
put it, they had “no assurance at all that if we did modify [the signaling system], that that in turn 
would not be overcome, too.” 

None of this sat well with the executives at American Telephone and Telegraph in New York 
City. The directive to the engineers at Bell Labs from AT&T headquarters at 195 Broadway was 
clear: “You guys created this mess, you clean it up!” 

Engineers are funny animals. If you tell an engineer about a problem, any problem, his first 
instinct is to measure it. Tell an engineer you don’t love him anymore and he’ll ask for a graph 
of your love over time so that he can understand exactly how big the problem is and when it 

But there were no graphs of the extent of electronic toll fraud, at least not in the early 1960s. 
After all, the key thing that blue and black boxes did was to defeat AT&T’s carefully designed 
billing system, the very system that kept tabs on the number and length of calls being made on 
its network. If there were no billing records for fraudulent calls, there was no way to know how 
many fraudulent calls there were or how long they lasted. And that meant AT&T was gazing 
into the abyss. Say the phone company catches some college students with electronic boxes. 
Fantastic! But elation is soon replaced by worry. Is that all of them? Or is that just the tip of the 
iceberg? Are there another ten college students doing it? A hundred? Are there a thousand 
fraudulent calls a year or are there a million? 

Engineers hate stuff like this. 

Bell Labs, filled to the brim with engineers, proposed a crash program to build an electronic 
toll fraud surveillance system and deploy it throughout the network. It would keep a watchful 
eye over the traffic flowing from coast to coast, ever vigilant for suspicious calls — not every call, 
mind you, but a random sampling of a subset of them, enough to gather statistics. For the first 
time Bell Labs — and AT&T’s senior management — would have useful data about the extent of 
the electronic toll fraud problem. Then they’d be in a position to make billion-dollar decisions. 

The project was approved; indeed, AT&T gave Bell Labs a blank check and told them to get 
right to work. Tippy-top secret, the program had the coolest of code names: Project Greenstar. 
Within Bell Labs Greenstar documents were stamped with a star outlined in green ink to 
highlight their importance and sensitivity. Perhaps as a joke, the project lead was given a 
military dress uniform hat with a green general’s star on it, an artifact that was passed on from 
one team lead to the next over the years. 

Greenstar development began in 1962 and the first operational unit was installed at the end 
of 1964. Bill Caming, AT&T’s corporate attorney for privacy and fraud matters, became 
intimately familiar with the program. “We devised six experimental units which we placed at 
representative cities,” Caming said. “Two were placed in Los Angeles because of not only 
activity in that area, but also different signaling arrangements, and one was placed in Miami, 
two were originally placed in New York, one shortly thereafter moving to Newark, NJ, and one 
was placed in Detroit, and then about January 1967 moved to St. Louis.” 

Ken Hopper, a longtime Bell Labs engineer involved in network security and fraud detection, 
recalls that the Greenstar units were big, bulky machines. “I heard the name ‘yellow submarine’ 
applied to one of them,” he says. They lived in locked rooms or behind fenced-in enclosures in 
telephone company switching buildings. A single Greenstar unit would be connected to a 
hundred outgoing long-distance trunk lines and could simultaneously monitor five of them for 
fraud. The particular long-distance trunk lines being monitored were selected at random as 

calls went out over them. At its core, Greenstar looked for the presence of 2,600 Hz on a trunk 
line when it shouldn’t be there. It could detect both black box and blue box fraud, since both 
cases were flagged by unusual 2,600 Hz signaling. 

As Caming described it, “There were in each of these locations a hundred trunks selected out 
of a large number, and the [. . .] logic equipment would select a call. There were five temporary 
scanners which would pick up a call and look at it with this logic equipment and determine 
whether or not it had the proper [. . .] supervisory signals, whether, for example, there was return 
answer supervision. When we have a call, we have a supervisory signal that goes to and 
activates the billing equipment which usually we call return answer supervision. That starts the 
billing process and legitimizes the call, and if you find voice conversation without any return 
answer signal, and that is what it was looking for, it is an indication, a strong indication, of a 
possible black box that the caller called in; and if, for example, you heard the tell-tale blue box 
tone [. . .] this was a very strong indication of illegality because that tone has no normal 
presence upon our network at that point.” 

When Greenstar detected something unusual, it took an audacious next step: it recorded the 
telephone call. With no warrant and with no warning to the people on the line, suspicious calls 
were silently preserved on spinning multitrack reel-to-reel magnetic tapes. If Greenstar judged it 
had found a black box call it recorded for sixty to ninety seconds; if it stumbled upon a blue box 
it recorded the entire telephone call. Separate tracks recorded the voice, supervisory signals, 
and time stamps. 

When the tapes filled up they were removed by two plant supervisors. “They were the only 
two who had access from the local [telephone] company,” Caming says. Then they were sent 
via registered mail to New York City. There, at the Greenstar analysis bureau, specially trained 
operators — “long-term chief operators who had great loyalty to the system [who] were screened 
for being people of great trust,” Ken Hopper says — would listen to the tapes, their ears alert for 
indications of fraud. The operators would determine whether a particular call was illegal or was 
merely the result of an equipment malfunction or “talk off” — somebody whose voice just 
happened to hit 2,600 Hz and had caused a false alarm. When these operators were finished 
listening, the tapes would be bulk erased and sent back for reuse. 

“The greatest caution was exercised,” Bill Caming recalls. “I was very concerned about it. 
The equipment itself was fenced in within the central office so that no one could get to it 
surreptitiously and extract anything of what we were doing. We took every pain to preserve the 
sanctity of the recordings.” 

Project Greenstar went on for more than five and a half years. Between the end of 1964 and 
May 1970, Greenstar randomly monitored some 33 million U.S. long-distance phone calls, a 
number that was at once staggeringly large and yet still an infinitesimally tiny fraction of the 
total number of long-distance calls placed during those years. Of these 33 million calls, 
between 1.5 and 1.8 million were recorded and shipped to New York to be listened to by 
human ears. “We had to have statistics,” said Caming. Statistics they got: they found “at least 
25,000 cases of known illegality” and projected that in 1966 they had “on the order of 350,000 
[fraudulent] calls nationwide.” 

“Boy, did it perk up some ears at 195 Broadway,” says Hopper. It wasn’t even that 350,000 
fraudulent calls was that big a number. Rather, it was the fact that there was really nothing that 
could be done about it, at least not at once. “It was immediately recognized that if such fraud 
could be committed with impunity, losses of staggering proportions would ensue,” Caming said. 
“At that time we recognized — and we can say this more confidently in public in retrospect — that 
we had no immediate defense. This was a breakthrough almost equivalent to the advent of 
gunpowder, where the hordes of Genghis Khan faced problems of a new sort, or the advent of 

the cannon.” 

The initial plan with Greenstarwas simple: Wait. Watch. Listen. Gather statistics. Tell no one. 
Most important, don’t do anything that would give it away. “There was no prosecution during 
those first couple of years,” Hopper says. “It was so the bad guys would not be aware of the fact 
that they’re being measured.” It was only later, Hopper says, that AT&T decided to switch from 
measurement to prosecution. Even then, Hopper said, “The presence of Greenstar would not 
be divulged and that evidence gathered to support toll fraud prosecutions would be gathered by 
other means.” Instead, Hopper relates, Greenstar would be used to alert Bell security agents to 
possible fraud. The security agents would then use other means, such as taps and recordings, 
to get the evidence needed to convict. “Greenstar bird-dogging it would not be brought out,” 
says Hopper. “It was just simply a toll fraud investigation brought about by unusual signaling 
and you would not talk about the fact that there was a Greenstar device. That was the ground 
rule as I understood it. Any court testimony that I ever gave, I never talked about any of that.” As 
another telephone company official put it, “If it ever were necessary to reveal the existence of 
this equipment in order to prosecute a toll fraud case, [AT&T] would simply decline to 

Bill Caming became AT&T’s attorney for privacy and fraud matters in September 1965. 
Greenstar had been in operation for about a year when he was briefed on it. His reaction was 
immediate: “ Change the name. I don’t even know what it is, but it just sounds illegal. Change 
the name.” More innocent-sounding code names like “Dewdrop” and “Ducky” were apparently 
unavailable, so AT&T and Bell Labs opted for something utilitarian and unlikely to attract 
attention: Greenstar was rechristened “Toll Test Unit.” 

As the new legal guy at AT&T headquarters, Caming faced questions that were both 
important and sensitive. Forget how it sounded, was Greenstar actually illegal ? And if it was, 
what should be done about it? Before joining AT&T Caming had been a prosecutor at the 
Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II. He was highly regarded, considered by many to 
be a model of legal rectitude. Was there any way he could see that the AT&T program was 

There was. He later stated under oath that there was “no question” Greenstar was in fact 
legal under laws of the day — a surprising conclusion for what at first blush appears to be an 
astonishing overreach on the part of the telephone company. There were two parts to Caming’s 
reasoning. The first had to do with the odd wording of the wiretap laws of the early 1 960s; using 
this wording Caming was able to thread a line of legal logic through the eye of a very specific 
needle to conclude that the program was legal under the law prior to 1968. The second part 
had to do with his position at American Telephone and Telegraph. In 1968, when Congress 
was considering new wiretapping legislation, Caming was in a position to help lawmakers draft 
the new law. He made very sure that the new wiretap act didn’t conflict with AT&T’s 
surveillance program. 

Caming even informed the attorneys at the Justice Department’s Criminal Division about 
Greenstar in 1966 and 1967, in connection with some prosecutions. “Now, that does not say 
that they cleared it or gave me their imprimatur,” he allowed. But then, he added, “we did not 
feel we needed it.” 

Years later, the Congressional Research Service agreed with Caming regarding the legality 
of the program — to a degree. While not going so far as to say there was “no question” that 
Greenstar was legal, it was concluded that “It is not certain that the telephone company violated 
any federal laws by the random monitoring of telephone conversations during the period from 
1 964 to 1 970. This uncertainty exists because the Congressional intent [in the law] is not clear, 
and case law has not clearly explained the permissible scope of monitoring by the company.” 

This whole mess formed a challenging business conundrum for AT&T executives, the sort of 
thing that would make for a good business school case study. Put yourself in their shoes. You 
have made an incredibly expensive investment in a product — the telephone network — that 
turns out to have some gaping security holes in it. You have, as Bill Caming said, no immediate 
defense against the problem. You finally have some statistics about how bad the problem is. It’s 
bad, but it’s not terrible, unless it spreads, in which case it’s catastrophic. Replacing the 
network will take years and cost a billion dollars or so. The Justice Department isn’t sure there 
are any federal laws on the books that actually apply. And every time you prosecute the 
fraudsters under state laws, not only do you look bad in the newspapers — witness the 
Milwaukee Journal’s 1963 front-page headline “Lonely Boy Devises Way of Placing Free Long 
Distance Calls” — but the resulting publicity makes the problem worse. 

AT&T played the best game it could with a bad hand. For now, it would quietly monitor the 
network, keeping a weather eye on the problem. When the company found college kids playing 
with the network, investigators would give them a stern talking-to and confiscate their colored 
boxes. Execs would start thinking about a slow, long-term upgrade to the network to eliminate 
the underlying problem. And if opportunity knocked and they could help out the feds with an 
organized crime prosecution — and in the process set a clear precedent for the applicability of 
the federal Fraud by Wire law — well, that would be lovely. 

That opportunity came knocking in 1 965. As it turned out, it used a sledgehammer. 



It was January 8, 1966, a cloudy winter day in Miami. Special Agent Heist rang the doorbell to 
Kenneth Hanna’s apartment. 


Heist glanced down at the clipboard he was carrying where his FBI identification was clipped 
— along with arrest and search warrants. Standing next to Heist was Special Agent Roussell. 
Instead of a clipboard, Roussell was carrying a fourteen-pound sledgehammer. 

“FBI!” Heist shouted. “We are here to execute a search warrant!” 

Still nothing. 

Heist looked at his watch. Seconds ticked by. 

Heist pounded the door with his fist. He rang the doorbell a few more times. 

Finally he turned to Roussell. “Hit the door.” 

Roussell swung his sledge. The door buckled but it didn’t open. 

“Hit it again,” Heist ordered. 

At the second blow the door opened. And with it so did a legal can of worms — worms that 
would, over the next four years, crawl all the way to the Supreme Court. 

Special Agent Heist was there because of a blue box. But Kenneth Hanna — the guy whose 
door got sledged — was a bookie, not a phone phreak. If you’re a bookie, the service you 
provide is accepting bets from your customers on a particular event — in football, say, maybe it’s 
the upcoming Packers versus Patriots game. You charge a small commission for that service. 
But if that’s the service you provide, your real business is a delicate balancing act. In 
aggregate, you need to get your customers to bet the same number of dollars on the Packers as 
they’re betting on the Patriots. If they don’t, if their bets are lopsided, then you’re now running a 

risk: if the wrong side loses, you — personally — are on the hook for the difference. 

Getting customers to bet evenly on both sides is tough to do if the Packers are widely 
expected to kick Patriot butt. So the way you even things out is with something called “the line.” 
The line is the point spread, that is, the number of points by which the bookie claims one team 
is going to beat the other. Kind of like a handicap in golf, it aims to turn an uneven match into an 
even one. By adjusting the line, the bookie can influence which side his customers are betting 
on. But even then a bookie might still end up with lopsided bets and financial risk. When this 
happens, street-level bookies turn to higher-level “layoff” bookies: they lay off — outsource — 
some of their bets to a bookie higher up in the bookie food chain, someone with more financial 
wherewithal who is able to take on greater risk. 

Even more than teenage girls, bookies are telephone junkies; good bookies are always on 
the phone. Not just to take bets from their customers but to stay in touch with their colleagues, 
from the casinos of Las Vegas and Atlantic City to informants in college football towns across 
the country. Did a big bookie in Vegas just change his line? Better figure out why. And if the 
Packers’ quarterback bruised his shoulder in a fender bender, or Michigan State’s star 
defensive end is drinking too much while pledging a fraternity, our bookie needs to know this 
ASAP. In the 1950s and ’60s, before the Internet, the telephone was a bookie’s lifeline. In fact, 
a bookie cut off from his sources is a bookie who will be out of business very quickly. 

This telephone monkey on their backs gave bookies two problems. The first was just 
business, plain old profit and loss. If you were on the phone all day long to faraway places back 
in the 1960s, well, let’s just say that AT&T was getting rich and you probably weren’t. Money 
saved on your long-distance bill was money in your pocket. 

The bigger problem was that pesky Federal Bureau of Investigation. While many FBI agents 
felt that sports betting was simply red-blooded American fun, the problem was organized crime. 
It turned out that bookmaking was one of the mob’s most lucrative businesses; one estimate put 
U.S. betting at $20 billion in 1969, as much as one-third of which was pure profit for gangsters. 
Although there might not be anything wrong with betting a few bucks on the basketball game, 
the problem was, as one former FBI special agent put it, “it ends up feeding something else, like 
drugs, prostitution, loan sharking.” 

In 1961 Attorney General Robert Kennedy urged Congress to pass a suite of laws aimed at 
“the bankrolled and kingpins of the rackets,” as part of a larger plan to go after organized crime 
by cutting off its finances. Several of these laws specifically targeted bookmaking. Shut down 
bookmaking, the logic went, and you cut off the mob’s largest and most profitable revenue 
stream; cut off those revenues and not only do you hurt organized crime across the board, you 
limit its ability to invest in growth markets such as importing illicit drugs. And though not every 
bookie was mobbed up, the FBI knew a lot of the bigger layoff bookies were. So that’s where 
the law focused. 

But going after the bookies was tough. Bookmaking doesn’t leave lots of physical evidence 
like dead bodies or stolen loot. The actual crime occurs only when you accept a bet, which 
might be done in person but more likely happened over the phone. Then, for it to be a federal 
crime under the new laws, the bet had to be placed across state lines. Even then, the law said, 
gambling across state lines was illegal only if you were “in the business of gambling,” a vague 
term that was up to the courts to decide on a case-by-case basis. Merely placing an occasional 
bet with a faraway friend or two wasn’t good enough. All of these requirements made it tricky to 
gather enough evidence to get a conviction. Who could the FBI turn to for help? 

Who else? The phone company. Wiretaps were ideal for taking down bookies, but they were 
hard to come by — legally, anyway. Yet the phone company had something almost as good: 
long-distance toll records. Phone bills, in other words. Toll records provided the FBI with what 

the military code breakers at the National Security Agency would call “traffic analysis,” 
answering the questions of who called whom, when, and for how long? Even if you don’t 
wiretap the bad guys there’s still a lot you can learn just from seeing the patterns of their phone 

Gil “the Brain” Beckley was a perfect example. “He was the number one layoff bookmaker in 
the U.S. and Canada. He was the guy,” recalls Edwin J. Sharp, a former FBI assistant director 
who worked the Beckley case in his early years at the Bureau. Beckley, reddish-haired and 
handsome, was liked and respected by his fellow layoff bookmakers. His nickname came from 
his lightning-quick ability to calculate odds in his head, and he was known to take in more than 
$250,000 of bets in a single day. The government had been tangling with Beckley since the 
late 1950s and wanted to take him down. Badly. 

“Beckley lived in a plush Miami Beach apartment house, five or six stories up, well insulated. 
There was no way to get in and do anything,” Sharp says. “We were pretty well restricted to 
phone record checks.” But the phone records were a treasure trove. Over a period of months 
Sharp amassed a 3x5 index card file — some twenty thousand cards’ worth — of every long- 
distance number Beckley called. “We didn’t know the term then,” Sharp says, “but what we 
really needed was a computer database.” Painstakingly, Sharp and his colleagues built a 
detailed map of Beckley and his associates. By combining this with other intelligence they 
formed a solid picture of his bookmaking operation. 

The threat posed by telephone toll records wasn’t news to the bookies, and they had 
developed several techniques to combat it. As early as 1950 bookies were using so-called 
cheese boxes to evade capture. The cheese box was a simple electronic circuit that bridged 
two telephone lines to form a two-person conference call. A bookie would get a pair of 
telephone lines installed someplace innocuous, such as an empty apartment, and install a 
cheese box there. The bookie would call one of the two telephone numbers and then just wait. 
At some point, one of his customers would call the other number and they would be connected. 
The beauty of this setup was that the customer never had the bookie’s direct telephone number. 
Moreover, if the police took the telephone numbers to the phone company to get an address 
they could raid, they’d end up looking like chumps, because all they’d find was an empty 
apartment with a pair of telephone lines and some simple electronics in the closet. 

Cheese boxes didn’t solve the problem of long-distance toll records, however, because 
bookies still needed to make outgoing phone calls. Since the early 1950s bookies had been 
using every trick they could think of to make free and, more important, unrecorded long-distance 
telephone calls. One method was as simple as bribing telephone company operators and 
technicians to place calls for them so that the calls never appeared on their own telephone bills. 
Another approach took advantage of the fact that the phone company issued special telephone 
credit cards to its customers that allowed them to make phone calls while they were on the 
road. The bookies learned that it was possible to make up bogus credit card numbers, which 
both saved them money and guaranteed that records of the calls wouldn’t wind up on their 
phone bills. In other cases bookies would establish legitimate telephone credit cards under 
different names and addresses and actually pay the bills. This latter method might not save 
them any money, but it did manage to keep long-distance calls off their own personal toll 
records, thus frustrating the Ed Sharps of the FBI with their thousands of 3x5 cards. 

Around 1960 the bookies discovered a higher-tech approach. A former telephone company 
engineer named Walter Shaw seems to have been the guy who introduced the mob to the 
black box, the simple electronic circuit that makes it look like the telephone was never 
answered and that Charlie Pyne and his buddies rediscovered in 1963. A black box gets 
installed on the receiving end of a call but it benefits the caller: if you call a number that has a 

black box on it, your phone call is free and no record of the call is ever made by the phone 
company. It was easy to combine a black box with a cheese box so that bookie-bettor 
conference calls could be free and also leave no record that they had taken place. 

Government law enforcement agencies got their first inkling of this new technology in 1960. 
Investigators at the Treasury Department had been investigating a large cross-country 
gambling ring with the standard technique of using long-distance toll records to map out the 
bad guys. They had recently received a tip that there was “some type of instrument or device 
through which gamblers are able to make long distance telephone calls but circumvent the 
recording of these calls by telephone company equipment.” Not long afterward, the telephone 
toll records dried up; there was suddenly a “surprising decrease in their long distance 
telephone activities.” Exactly what you’d expect to see if bookies started deploying black boxes 
to hide evidence of their calls. The next year Walter Shaw was arrested in Miami after a bookie 
raid a week earlier turned up a number of black boxes in Mamaroneck, New York, which the 
New York assistant attorney general claimed Shaw had been selling to bookies for $1,500 a 

Unfortunately — for the bookies, that is — black boxes weren’t a panacea. A black box is a 
passive device for receiving calls. If you have a black box, then people calling you don’t have to 
pay for their calls, nor do they have to worry about leaving a record that the call took place. But 
having a black box doesn’t help you make calls; if you wanted to leave no trace of your 
outgoing phone calls a black box didn’t help you. 

Enter the blue box. Blue boxes were active devices: they allowed you to call people — 
anybody — without leaving a record that the call was ever made. It’s not clear exactly when the 
bookies learned about blue boxes, or from whom, but the best guess appears to be about 1 963 
or 1 964. One source was Louis MacKenzie, the electronics engineer who offered to fix AT&T’s 
network, for a price, in the early 1960s. MacKenzie, who later became a witness for the 
government in several blue box prosecutions, sold blue boxes to bookies in 1965 or perhaps 
earlier. But it is certainly possible that organized crime members learned about blue boxes from 
another source, for example, Walter Shaw, the former telephone company engineer who 
provided the mob with black boxes. 

Regardless of exactly where they came from, or when, blue boxes are what led to Special 
Agent Heist knocking on Kenneth Hanna’s door on that Miami winter morning in 1966. About 
six months earlier, on July 19, 1965, AT&T contacted the Department of Justice’s Organized 
Crime Division. AT&T’s lawyer explained that the company had been investigating a toll fraud 
case and stumbled on something that the Justice Department might be interested in. Certain 
individuals had been “using devices to circumvent payment of telephone charges in the 
transmission of wagering information.” The wording had special meaning to the feds, for 
transmission of wagering information across state lines was a federal crime, one made so by a 
law introduced just a few years earlier by one of Attorney General Kennedy’s laws specifically 
targeting bookies and organized crime. The gambling network AT&T found certainly crossed 
state lines, spanning Boston, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Miami, Washington, D.C., 
and Providence, Rhode Island. 

The best part, though, was that AT&T had made tapes of the calls. “The Telephone Company 
investigation has resulted in obtaining various tapes and recordings, all in regard to gambling 
information,” read the FBI memo regarding the meeting with AT&T. The phone company 
“indicated their desire to turn these items over to the Organized Crime Division.” 

From AT&T’s perspective it must have seemed a master stroke.What better way to crack 
down on telephone fraud while simultaneously cementing good relations with law enforcement 
than to hand over the heads of mobsters on a platter? As Bill Caming, AT&T’s attorney for 

privacy and fraud matters, describes it, AT&T “put a blue ribbon around it and handed it to law 
enforcement. They would be delighted because the work was all done and the glory lay 

Well, the work wasn’t all done; the feds had certain niggling details to attend to, such as 
launching an investigation and then prosecuting the bad guys. A grand jury was convened in 
Philadelphia, thought to be the center of the gambling ring, tarcase — “tapes and recordings,” 
the FBI’s code name for the investigation — was born. 

It was about four months into tarcase, on November 24, 1965, when Jerry Doyle’s phone 
rang. Doyle, a former FBI agent, was a security officer for Southern Bell Telephone in Miami. 
The call was from the Internal Audit and Security Group at AT&T headquarters in New York 
City. The caller told Doyle that there were indications of a blue box in use on a telephone 
number in Miami and the company wanted Doyle to investigate it. 

The telephone number in question belonged to Kenneth Flanna. The name was familiar to 
Doyle, who knew him to be a Miami-area bookmaker. So did the FBI. In fact, the FBI had been 
trying to connect Flanna with tarcase for some months. 

Inside the telephone company switching office, Doyle had a blue box detector installed on 
Flanna’s telephone line. This was a device that listened for 2,600 FHz, the telltale tone emitted 
by a blue box to disconnect a telephone call. Each time it heard this tone it incremented a 
mechanical counter — a “peg counter” — to keep a running total of the number of times a blue 
box might have been used on Flanna’s line. The peg counter quickly registered plenty of hits, 
strongly indicating that Flanna’s line had a blue box on it. Doyle had the counter replaced with a 
tape recorder that was activated by 2,600 FHz. The recorder captured only the first thirty to forty- 
five seconds of each call, just enough to hear the blue box being used, to record what number 
was being dialed with it, and to get a few seconds of conversation, it was hoped enough to ID 
the people speaking. By limiting the recordings to just a minute or so at the start of the call, 
AT&T also hoped to avoid any later accusations that it had excessively violated its customers’ 
privacy rights; the phone company would be able to tell the courts that it had engaged in the 
absolute minimum amount of recording necessary to catch the bad guys. 

Within a day the tape recordings provided Doyle with all the evidence he needed (“beyond a 
shadow of a doubt,” he would later testify) to prove that Flanna was indeed using a blue box. 
But for some reason — perhaps a desire to be extra thorough, perhaps a desire to help his 
former colleagues at the FBI, who knows? — Doyle left the tape recorder on Flanna’s line for 
about a month. In all, some nine hours of Flanna’s conversations were recorded, a minute at a 

Toward the end of December, Doyle received a subpoena in the mail commanding him to 
turn over his tapes to the federal grand jury in Philadelphia. A few days later, Miami FBI special 
agent Bill FHeist was handed the case — and the tapes. Fie spent hours listening to them. They 
contained everything he needed to go after Flanna and Flanna’s partner, a New York bookie 
named Nathan Modell. Not only did the tapes make it clear that Flanna was using a blue box, 
Flanna and Modell’s conversations captured on the tapes also made it clear that they were in 
the business of bookmaking and were transmitting wagering information across state lines. 
Even though the tapes had less than a minute of each conversation, the feds believed it to be 
more than enough to convict both of them for illegal gambling activities. 

It was bad timing for Flanna and Modell but great timing for the feds because the FBI was just 
putting together a nationwide list of gamblers to raid that January. The Bureau planned to arrest 
bookies where there was evidence to do so and to execute search warrants to gather 
intelligence where there wasn’t; agents hoped they could get grand jury indictments after the 
searches. Flanna and Modell were added to their list, joining an honor roll of about a dozen 

others, a list that started with a planned search of the apartment of Gil Beckley, the 
government’s most wanted bookmaker. 

On January 8, 1 966, FBI agents executed raids in New York, Miami, New Orleans, Baltimore, 
and five other cities. As Special Agent Heist and four other FBI agents crashed through the 
door of the apartment in Miami, Hanna made a dash for the bathroom. He was arrested 
moments later standing over a just-flushed toilet, the most incriminating of his bookmaking 
papers presumably making their way through the sewer system to Biscayne Bay. Still, the FBI 
recovered a blue box and other bookmaking paraphernalia from his apartment. That same 
morning the FBI arrested Modell at his hotel room in New York City. Hanna was charged with 
18 USC 1343, Fraud by Wire, and 18 USC 1084, Interstate Transmission of Wagering 
Information; Modell, who only received blue box calls from Hanna, was charged only with 
Interstate Transmission of Wagering Information. 

The raids in the other cities went off without a hitch. According to newspaper reports, FBI 
agents “used a chauffeur-driven Cadillac to get into the swank island apartment of Gilbert Lee 
Beckley ... the chauffeur carried a carton of whiskey and was flanked by two agents disguised 
as the donors. Beckley looked through the peephole, saw the chauffeur, and opened the door.” 
Although Beckley was not arrested, FBI agents obtained a wealth of gambling information. In 
the words of a Justice Department attorney in Miami, the operation was “most successful.” 

Then, just a few months later, in April 1966 — and before Hanna and Modell even had a 
chance to get to trial — the phone company handed over to the FBI still more evidence of bookie 
blue box fraud. The setup was similar to the Hanna case in that gamblers and bookies using 
blue boxes to make illegal telephone calls were all caught on tape by the telephone company. 
The recordings this time were courtesy of AT&T’s California subsidiary, Pacific Telephone, and 
they were of an alleged Los Angeles bookmaker named Al Bubis speaking with his associates 
throughout the country. 

As in the Hanna case, Pacific Telephone had determined that Bubis was using a blue box. 
As Southern Bell had done with Hanna, Pacific Telephone installed a tape recorder on Bubis’s 
line. But Pacific Telephone went further than the telephone companies back east that were 
involved in tarcase. Instead of recording just the first thirty to forty-five seconds of each call, 
Pacific Telephone recorded the entire duration of all of Bubis’s calls, both incoming and 
outgoing, from December 20, 1 965, to March 24, 1 966. 

It was a gold mine for law enforcement: a chance to listen to three months’ worth of telephone 
calls between Bubis and some of the FBI’s most wanted bookies. Based on the Bubis tapes the 
FBI made simultaneous raids across the country on May 25, 1966. Sixteen alleged gamblers 
and bookmakers in nine different states were arrested; four more were sought as fugitives. As 
always, Gil “the Brain” Beckley was at the top of the list, and this time it was an arrest, not a 
search. Also arrested was Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, a charismatic gambler whose career would 
later be reprised by Robert De Niro in the 1995 movie Casino. An FBI press release described 
the operation as a “crippling blow to the users of electronic devices designed to circumvent toll 
charges on long-distance telephone calls.” 

The bookies were not going down without a fight. Mob attorney Ben Cohen represented both 
Hanna and Modell in the Florida case as well as Gil Beckley and Henry Loman in the first 
California case to reach trial. Cohen was the brother of Sam Cohen, one of the five founders of 
Miami’s notorious S & G Syndicate — the initials were said to stand for “stop and go,” a 
reference to the syndicate’s habit of suspending operations when things got too hot. At its peak, 
S & G ran a network of some two hundred bookies in the Miami area and raked in about $40 
million a year. 

Counsel Ben Cohen could switch instantly from smooth and charming to tough and 

intimidating. His balding head, horn-rimmed glasses, stout frame, expensive gabardine suits, 
and three-carat diamond pinky ring quickly became fixtures in Miami courthouses. The 
Senate’s Kefauver hearings on organized crime reported in 1951: “Individual bookmakers 
understood that they would be arrested from time to time; that their fines would be paid out of 
the profits so that S & G would participate in one-half of the fine if the bookie did not have it; and 
that after the fine was paid, the bookmaking operation could continue unmolested. The 
bookmakers were almost always represented by an attorney named Ben Cohen [. . .] There is 
concrete testimony on the record that Ben Cohen appeared on the scene of gambling raids 
almost immediately after the police, and the evidence indicates that S & G had information in 
advance about raids which were to be conducted.” 

By 1 966 Cohen was an old pro; he had been at the bar for thirty-eight years and spent much 
of that time defending syndicate members. Together he and his young partner, Miami attorney 
James Hogan, assembled their blue box defense strategy. In both cases the key legal issue 
boiled down to this: Under what circumstances did the phone company have the legal right to 
wiretap your telephone line? And, when it did wiretap you, what could it do with the 

In 1966 the law of the land on the subject of wiretapping was Section 605 of Title 47 of the 
United States Code. It read, in part: “No person . . . shall intercept any communication and 
divulge or publish the existence or contents of such intercepted communication.” 

This is fascinating wording. Under Section 605, merely intercepting a phone call is not 
illegal; it is interception followed by divulgence that is a crime. In other words, under Section 
605 you could wiretap to your heart’s content but you couldn’t tell anybody about what you 

As far as Cohen and Hogan were concerned, this was precisely what the telephone 
company had done. That is, it had wiretapped Hanna’s and Bubis’s lines and then disclosed 
the results to the government. AT&T had violated Section 605, plain and simple. And, as such, 
all of the government’s tape recordings — the entirety of the evidence, really — had to be thrown 
out. As Hogan argued to the judge in the Hanna case, “We submit that there are no exceptions 
to Title 47, Section 605; that we have proved interception; that we have proved divulgence.” To 
Hogan, it was an open-and-shut case in the defense’s favor: the telephone company’s tapping 
of Hanna’s line was clearly illegal. 

Cohen summed it up this way to the judge. 

Now, there is no omnipotence to the telephone company as far as I am concerned. I can’t see them being any greater 
than any small corporation. They have no greater standing than the Government. The President of the United States 
issued a proclamation that there shall be no wire tapping except in national emergencies, and he did not add, “with the 
exception of the telephone company.” He didn't add, “if they are being defrauded.” Now, the telephone company in this 
case decided there was probable cause. It was not done by a court of law. It was they who decided there was probable 
cause to tap the phone and divulge. The great telephone company decides what their probable cause is. They decide 
whether or not they should tap the phone, and then they send it over to the Federal government. Now, Section 605 
says, No one shall divulge what they hear over a wire . . . they don’t say, “Nobody but the telephone company.” 

Nonsense, responded the U.S. attorney prosecuting Hanna. “The telephone company gets 
the right to monitor its lines under certain circumstances because it is their lines ... it would be 
shocking and illogical not to permit them.” And once they’ve monitored and found hanky panky, 
they obviously need to be able to tell law enforcement about it. 

What is the telephone company to do with it? Are they not permitted to take the results of their own independent 
investigation to law enforcement officials to see if these things can’t be stopped? People have been defrauding them 
of revenues. Are they not to be punished? Are they permitted merely to monitor the line and determine that Mr. Hanna 
has, in fact, a blue box on there and he is defrauding them out of $500 or $1 ,000 of revenue per month and do nothing 
about it? Do they not have the right to seek whatever steps they deem appropriate in order to correct this situation? 

The U.S. attorney in the Hanna case had another card up his sleeve: a Supreme Court case 

called United States v. Sugden. In the Sugden case the bad guys used radios while they were 
committing a crime. The government overheard them on the radio and presented recordings of 
their radio transmissions as evidence against them in court. The defendants claimed that this 
evidence was illegally obtained under Section 605; as in the Hanna case, they argued that the 
government had illegally intercepted and divulged the contents of their communications and 
thus the recordings couldn’t be used as evidence. The government countered that Section 605 
didn’t apply because the defendants did not have a license to use their radios, that they were 
on the air illegally. The government claimed that if you’re using a communications facility 
illegally — just like Hanna was, for example, when he was using his blue box to make free 
phone calls — then Section 605 didn’t apply. In other words, your right to privacy evaporates 
when you’re on the line illegally. The Supreme Court agreed. 

The blue box bookies lost both cases. Out in California, Bubis was convicted in August 1966, 
fined $2,000, and given a one-year suspended sentence. Loman, his codefendant, was 
acquitted. Beckley, the bookie the government had been after for so long, escaped on the 
thinnest of technicalities: the grand jury indictment against him had neglected to include the 
word willfully in a key sentence. In Florida, Hanna and Modell were both convicted on 
December 2, 1966, and sentenced to six months in prison and five years’ probation. Hanna 
was also fined $10,000. 

All three appealed. 

Hanna and Model I’s appeal focused mainly on suppressing the government’s tape 
recordings. It hammered home the idea that Section 605 does apply to telephone companies, 
that is, that there is no special right that the telephone company has to monitor its lines. But it 
also alleged that the government was in bed with the phone company to improperly gather 
evidence on bookmaking. In California, Bubis’s attorney argued that the telephone company 
had gone nuts. First, he said, the telephone company had disclosed to the feds that Bubis’s 
telephone calls “sounded like gambling” before any subpoena had been issued to them — a 
clear violation of Section 605. Second, the telephone company had recorded not just a few 
minutes of Bubis’s calls but all of them — a gross violation of Bubis’s rights. 

On October 20, 1967, California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals derailed AT&T and the 
Justice Department’s winning streak. By listening to all of Bubis’s calls over a period of months 
the phone company had greatly overreached, the appeals court said, and reversed Bubis’s 
conviction. As the three-justice panel wrote: 

While we realize the result we have just reached means that the appellant will go unwhipped of justice, nevertheless, 
we reach the result on the ground that that fact is less important than that the telephone company should not resort to 
unreasonable and unnecessary practices which we deem contrary to the provisions of Section 605. 

This was the first loss for the government and the phone company on the subject of blue 
boxes. And, of course, the Hanna case was still up on appeal. In fact, both sides in Hanna had 
just presented oral arguments to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Florida. Seeing this as 
either a great opportunity or a terrible threat, Hanna and the government both rushed to file 
supplemental briefs with the Fifth Circuit to persuade it that the Ninth Circuit was right, or had 
lost its marbles, depending on which side was doing the persuading. 

Six months later, on March 5, 1968, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Florida borrowed 
some poetic phraseology from its Ninth Circuit brethren in California and handed the 
government its second loss. 

Congress may have thought it less important that some offenders should go unwhipped of justice (and that the 
telephone company lose some long distance tolls) than that officers (or telephone company employees) should resort 
to methods deemed inconsistent with ethical standards and destructive of personal liberty. 

Yet the court’s decision was strange. Although the appeals court did direct the lower court to 

reverse its findings, each judge wrote his own opinion on the case. Far from being unanimous, 
it was a one-one-one split: the senior judge sided with defendants Hanna and Modell, the 
second judge sided with the government, and a third judge took the position that while the 
telephone company might have the right to monitor illegal calls, it did not have the right to 
disclose the results of monitoring to law enforcement. 

Faced with two reversals and a crumbling legal strategy, the government threw a Hail Mary 
pass: it petitioned for a rehearing, a legal move that almost never works. It emphasized that the 
court of appeals’ ruling left the government and the telephone company at a loss for legal 
guidance going forward. It pointed out that of all the judges in the Fifth Circuit who had 
considered blue box cases to date, only one of them (the senior judge in the three-judge panel) 
felt that telephone company tape recordings were inadmissible. Moreover, the government 
argued, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had neglected even to consider the Sugden case, the 
only relevant Supreme Court case in the matter. 

Astonishingly, the appeals court agreed to rehear the case. 

It was time to pull out all the stops. Bill Caming, AT&T’s attorney, filed a detailed twenty-two- 
page “friend of the court” brief that took apart the Fifth Circuit decision piece by piece. He 
argued that illegally placed calls cannot enjoy the protection of Section 605, that there was no 
reasonable way to gather evidence in these cases other than by recording the calls, and that 
electronic toll fraud was a large and growing problem for the telephone industry. Caming 
elaborated in grim detail on this last point. 

Within the past few years the use of electronic toll fraud devices, which are relatively inexpensive to make, has grown 
at a disturbing rate. We estimate that blue boxes can be mass-produced at a cost of about $25 to $50 per unit, and 
“black boxes” at a cost of $1 .00 or less per unit. Experience has shown these devices have a unique appeal to the 
criminal element. It enables them not only to evade the payment of lawful telephone charges, but also to falsify or 
avoid completely any record of the communications made in furtherance of their various illicit operations. [. . .] 

We can only conjecture at the full scale of the substantial revenue losses sustained by the telephone industry and its 
ratepayers. Nonetheless, if the Court deem it desirable, we are prepared to show that since 1 961 over 1 30 blue boxes, 
over 300 black boxes, and many “cheese boxes” have been seized. Some 224 different individuals were implicated. 
As in many criminal areas where detection is difficult, the instances of electronic toll fraud unearthed by the telephone 

companies represent merely that portion of the iceberg visible to the eye. [. . .] 

The virtually unchecked use of toll fraud devices which could ensue if the threat of federal prosecution is removed 
would impose an unwarranted financial burden on the telephone industry and its honest customers. The latter would 
be required to underwrite the entire cost of these depredations. 

On November 1 8, 1 968, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals did something even more rare than 
granting a rehearing: it reversed itself. In a judicial mea culpa the court’s opinion stated: 

On original hearing, Judge Rives wrote what was intended to become the opinion of the Court. Judge Gobold 
concurred specially, and Judge Hughes dissented. On further consideration, it appears that Judge Rives’ original 
opinion is in error both as to the facts and as to the law. 

The court summarized where it went wrong — quoting liberally from Caming’s brief — and 
concluded with the sentence: “The judgments of conviction of both Hanna and Modell are 
therefore affirmed.” 

The Hail Mary had worked. Caming recalls, “Outside of an opening salutation by the court, 
they adopted the nine pages or so of my brief as their opinion, not even mentioning that it was 
from my brief. That is the first and only time that ever happened to me. I couldn’t believe it!” 

Hanna and Modell must have figured that, if it worked for the prosecution, it could work for 
them. Two weeks later they filed a petition for a second rehearing. This time the court said no, 
so they appealed to the Supreme Court. On May 5, 1969, the Supreme Court declined to hear 
their case. More than three years after the FBI took a sledgehammer to Ken Hanna’s door, the 
issue was finally settled. If you were making illegal calls you had no right to privacy. The phone 

company could tap your line and turn the recordings over to law enforcement. 

For the phone company, the victory was about much more than convicting Hanna or Bubis. 
AT&T now had a case that had gone all the way to the Supreme Court, one that proved, 
definitively, that 18 USC 1343 — the Fraud by Wire law that the Justice Department had 
believed wasn’t relevant — did apply to blue boxes. Thanks to Hanna’s failed appeal, the matter 
was now settled. AT&T finally had an arrow in its quiver to use against the fraudsters. 

Throughout all of this legal drama one mystery remains: how had the telephone company found 
out about Hanna’s or Bubis’s blue box calls in the first place? 

In the Hanna case, Miami telephone company security agent Jerry Doyle received a 
telephone call from the Internal Audit and Security Group at AT&T headquarters in New York 
asking him to investigate Hanna’s telephone line for a possible blue box. How did investigators 
in New York know that somebody in Miami was making illegal calls? Hanna’s attorneys asked 
Doyle this very question but Doyle said he didn’t know. 

There was a one-word answer that nobody was giving: Greenstar. 

Hanna had been caught up in AT&T’s toll fraud surveillance network. Imagine what would 
have happened if this had come out during Hanna’s trial. After all, the Hanna case took almost 
four years to resolve and went to the Supreme Court based on tape recordings of each of his 
illegal calls. Think of the legal circus that would have ensued if Hanna’s defense attorneys had 
learned that the telephone company had been randomly monitoring millions of telephone calls 
nationwide and recording hundreds of thousands of them. 

This added considerably to the stress of prosecuting Greenstar cases. AT&T attorney 
Caming recalls, “That was the problem in the Hanna case! Fortunately, defense counsel never 
probed too far as to what our original sources of information were.” With blue box prosecutions, 
he adds, “We were always on pins and needles as to what might spill over into the public 

Fortunately for AT&T in the Hanna and Bubis cases their luck held. And although Caming 
wasn’t a gambler or a bookmaker, he knew a thing or two about luck. In particular, he knew it 
didn’t last forever. 



H Hang up the phone and leave it alone!” 

Joe was about four years old when his mother first shouted that phrase at him; it was a shout 
he would hear again and again as he grew up. His mother could be forgiven for raising her 
voice. She tried to be supportive, she really did, but sometimes her son’s obsession with the 
telephone was just a little much for her. And besides, the shout didn’t work. Joe soon turned the 
phrase into a little song, one he would sing over and over again to himself in a quiet, lilting 
voice: “Hang up the phone and leave it alone, hang up the phone and leave it alone . . 

Joe was born in 1949. His given name was Josef Carl Engressia Jr. but his family called him 
Jojo. His mom, Esther, stayed at home and took care of Jojo and his sister, Toni. Dad — Joe Sr. 
— was a high school year book photographer. Though they struggled financially, they lived in a 
small but serviceable apartment in Richmond, Virginia. They had a car. They had a dog. In 
many ways the Engressias appeared to be a stereotypical postwar baby boom family. 

But, as we know, appearances can be deceiving. 

First there was the blindness. Joe was born blind, as was his sister. The doctors didn’t know 
what caused it for either of them. It cannot have been an easy thing for Esther and Joe Sr. 
having two blind children. Any parent will tell you that having kids isn’t easy. Having two blind 
kids is much harder, the sort of harder that make for stress, for anger, for fighting. “I won’t lie to 
you,” says Toni. “Our parents fought a lot.” 

Then there was the incandescence of little Joe’s mind. When he was three Jojo would pester 
the adults to read aloud to him. Before long, he wanted them not just to read to him but to tell 
him how the words were spelled. Soon after that, he wanted the adults just to read the letters to 
him — he would piece the letters together and form them into words and sentences, handling the 
work of “reading” himself. “Before I was four I knew how to be read to with people spelling the 
words,” he said. “So when I learned Braille I already knew how to read and learned in only a 
month or two.” 

Jojo didn’t have much use for playtime. “I didn’t like play,” he said. “I told the kindergarten 
teacher, ‘play stinks!”’ Instead of play, “I wanted people to read to me by spelling the words.” 

Then there were the obsessions — many, many obsessions. Young Josef was famous for 
them. Shower curtains were one; he loved the sound that a plastic shower curtain made as it 
swished back and forth on itself. Jell-0 was another. Jojo constantly asked his mom to make 
him a pot of Jell-O, saying repeatedly, “When is the Jell-0 going to jell?” Then there was his 
fascination with brassieres. His sister recalls, “It was all I could do to keep him from going 
outside with Mother’s bra wrapped around his head.” 

The greatest of his obsessions was the telephone. It started around the same time as he 
learned to read. “I used to ask what time it was, all the time, so Mother started dialing it on the 
phone. It entranced me, how I could hear another voice like that.” The phone company used to 
offer a free recording you could dial that would tell you the correct time; in Joe’s area that 
number was 737. Tired of dialing it for her son, Esther Engressia stuck pieces of tape on the 7 
and the 3. Joe could run his fingers over the cool metal dial of their rotary phone, his fingers 
seeking the roughness of the bits of tape. With this, Joe could dial the time himself. Joe would 
dial 737 constantly, just to listen to the voice. One day Joe noticed that the 3 was three holes 
away from the dial stop and 7 was seven holes away. “I thought, well, if 3 is 3 away and 7 is 7 
away, maybe 2 is 2 away and 4 is 4 away, and all that.” Joe dialed a number at random, 
remembering the digits as he dialed. He heard a ringing signal. A woman’s voice answered. “I 
asked, ‘Is this 43901 1 ?’ And she said yes, what do you want? And I said, ‘Oh boy, I just learned 
how to dial!”’ 

Play in the real world might stink, but play in the world of the telephone was fantastic. The 
phone had interesting things to listen to. It even had people who would talk to him! And it was 
challenging: it made the ganglia twitch inside little Joe’s mind. It was more than a playground, it 
was a laboratory, a place where a little kid could try things out and where he could conduct as 
many experiments as he wanted. It was a world of possibility, a world prefaced with that most 
intoxicating of words: if. 

“The way I learned [how to dial] sort of characterizes the way I’ve learned about telephone 
systems all my life,” he said later. “You make a theory . . . you think something.” Then he’d try it 
out. He’d perform an experiment. “Had that not worked I would have either had to make another 
theory or see why that wouldn’t work,” he says. Not simply trial and error but guided trial and 
error. Although Jojo didn’t know it at the time, the adults had a name for this. They called it the 
scientific method. Years later, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman would write, 
“The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: the test of all knowledge is 

For Joe the telephone was much more than just an intellectual playground. It was a warm 

electronic bosom, a source of comfort. It was never too busy to spend time with him. It was 
never moody. It didn’t fight with anybody. “Through the years the phone has provided me so 
much,” Joe said. “It was like a friend and companion to me.” His sister recalls that he would 
sometimes just pick up the phone and listen to the dial tone, its warm drone drowning out the 
angry voices of his arguing parents, arguments that sometimes wound up with Esther in the 
emergency room. “Most people take the little old telephone for granted, but to me, it was like 
magic,” he recalled. “I couldn’t even describe how important it was sometimes.” 

The sounds, the electronic playground, the people to talk to, a welcoming place that he could 
escape to — he was hooked. He remembers, “I was not quite four years old. I was crawling 
around the floor, running phone wire. The phone man had given me a big long piece of phone 
wire. Mother wouldn’t let me run it on the wall anymore with the modeling clay, it made marks 
and stuff. I was humming, ‘I’m a telephone man forever, I’m a telephone man forever,’ and just 
kind of singing it to myself in the tuneless way of a three-year-old, and thinking about it, 
pretending I was driving the phone truck and all that. I told Mother that. I kind of credit that time 
to when I first really remember saying it out loud, that I was a telephone man.” 

His mother wasn’t thrilled with the news. “She hoped that I would get over phones someday,” 
he says. Still, she did her best to support her son. Joe amassed a collection of technical books 
and articles about the telephone system, documents he would ask his mother to read to him. 
“She hated phones, and she kind of hated to do it, but she did it anyway,” he says. 

He recalls, “We met a phone man and he gave us some books and Mother was reading to 
me about #5 crossbar” — the electromechanical telephone switch system that was a workhorse 
of local phone service. “It was a big thick book from 1955 called something like The #5 
Crossbar Job,” he says. “That was one of my first big, hard books.” When a telephone man 
visited their house to install a telephone, Joe confided how much he was struggling to 
understand the book, how frustrating it was. He said, “I can’t quite understand this #5 crossbar, 
I’m just stupid, it makes me want to cry.” The telephone repair man responded, “There’s guys 
who’ve been [at the phone company] twenty, thirty years who can’t understand #5 crossbar!” 
The Engressias moved a lot when Joe was growing up, from Richmond, Virginia, up to 
Saugus, Massachusetts, then back down to Florida: Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, and 
finally Miami. (“Daddy hated the snow,” says Toni.) Each new place exposed Joe to new 
telephones and new telephone switching systems. He was constantly on the phone in each 
new place, listening to the sounds and learning how things worked. One of his techniques was 
to call the technicians in the telephone company central office and ask them questions. 

“I called up when I was almost eight years old and asked, what levels on your selectors are 
digit absorbing ones and which ones are absorbing repeatedly?” he remembers. (Levels and 
digit absorbing selectors are esoterica related to the old step-by-step switching system; you are 
forgiven if you do not have these terms close at hand.) “The guy said, ‘Who is this, ma’am?”’ 
Joe responded in his little kid’s voice, “I’m not a ma’am, I’m Joe, and I’m nearly eight years old!” 
Joe got himself a tour of the telephone central office and a trip to a football game from the 
delighted switchman. “I learned a whole lot [from that trip],” he remembered. In fact, he was 
thinking so hard about what he learned that day that he was silent during the entire drive home 
— an event so unusual that his mother teased him about it later. 

Although he didn’t know it at the time — and wouldn’t for ten more years — two of his 
telephonic discoveries would turn out to be pivotal, both to him and to a generation of phone 

The first of these was learning how to dial with the hook switch, the little switch that hangs up 
the phone when you put the handset back in its cradle. “I remember I used to hear the clicking 
of the dial. You could hear the clickings of the dial way in the background . . . When I hung up I 

could hear this tiny click in the background. I remember thinking, I wonder if the dial is the same 
as the receiver click, they both click. Maybe the dial is just faster clicks than the receiver button. 
. . . I thought about it and I said, if the hook switch and the dial are the same, then I should be 
able to hang up with the dial, and dial with the hook switch. It seemed impossible. But what if I 
did the hook switch real fast? And sure enough, I was able to dial.” He went for his old standby, 
the 737 time number. Pressing and releasing the hook switch button, “I actually counted 7, and 
the 3, 1 had to do it a couple of times. But finally I actually got the time with the hook button.” Joe 
had discovered that dialing a digit on a rotary phone is just like pressing the hook switch rapidly 
and repeatedly. Want to dial a 7? Press and release the hook switch 7 times in a row. (This still 
works on phones today, by the way; you can confirm the results of Joe’s experiment yourself 
with most any landline telephone.) 

Joe was far from the first person to discover that you could dial with the hook switch. But it 
tied into his second discovery, one that would become the basis for his future nickname. “I was 
seven or eight years old and I was sitting on a long-distance circuit, and I heard the background 
hum of the tone that controls it ... I started whistling along with it and all of a sudden the circuit 
cut off!” How odd! “I did it again and it cut off again.” Fascinated, Joe started playing around with 
this magic tone. He found he could consistently disconnect long-distance calls by whistling that 
tone — seventh octave E. At the time he wasn’t quite sure why it worked, or even what exactly it 
was good for, but he recalls it had great potential for pranks. “[Mother and I] were walking one 
time and there was some guy on a pay phone and I just thought, in case it was long distance, I 
just whistled, it was when I could whistle really loud then, and we were like ten feet away, and 
he was going, Hello? Hello? And I said, I wonder why he’s saying that? And Mother said, I think 
he got cut off. She didn’t know about the whistling at that time. It was just amazing, that tone.” 

Joe didn’t have many friends growing up, perhaps not surprising given his brightness and his 
very specific interests. When he was in the sixth grade he met another blind kid, Tandy Way, 
who shared his interests in technology, even including telephones. But, says Joe, Tandy “knew 
less than I did,” and Engressia wasn’t really able to learn anything from him. 

Engressia got his ham radio license a year before he started high school in 1 963. But phones 
remained his first love. Ham radio was “never as important as phones,” he says, and, as for 
high school, “I never got into, like, dating or proms.” He adds, “I’d much rather have a date with 
the pay phone than some girl or guy or anything.” True to form, he says, his high school 
yearbook featured a photo of him in the school phone booth. “During breaks between classes 
that’s where I’d always hang out,” he said. 

When Engressia was in tenth grade the unthinkable happened: a financial rough spot 
necessitated the removal of his home telephone. The high school pay phone booth became 
more important to him than he had anticipated. Joe began saving up money from his allowance 
to get his family’s phone reinstalled. “I got $2.50 a week lunch money and I did without lunch 
twice a week for nearly two years and saved up $1 at a time,” he said. “Back in twelfth grade I 
called up and got the phone installed.” It was, he said, the only day he missed school in his 
whole senior year, but somebody had to be home to let the telephone installer in. “My parents 
decided that if I had that much persistence then they’d pay for it.” 

After high school Engressia began taking classes at Dade County Junior College. Then, in 
the fall of 1968, he transferred to the University of South Florida in Tampa. He lived in Beta 
Hall, one of the dorms on campus. A little over a month into his first semester Engressia 
mentioned to some other students that he could whistle free long-distance calls. Yeah, right, 
was the response. Faced with such disbelief, Engressia responded with words that would 
change his life: “I can whistle like a bird and get any number you want anywhere. I’ll bet you a 
dollar I can.” 

Now then, some guy offers to bet you that he can whistle you a free long-distance call, using 
just his lips and nothing else, it’s a sure thing, right? A dollar was wagered. Whistling ensued. 
Engressia emerged slightly richer, his fellow students with egg on their faces. At least they got 
a phone call in the bargain. 

Engressia’s whistling trick combined two of the things he had learned ten years earlier: hook 
switch dialing and whistling to disconnect a call. Engressia knew that if he whistled seventh 
octave E, that is, 2,600 cycles per second, he could disconnect a long-distance phone call. But 
then what? Engressia figured out that by whistling short bursts of 2,600 Hz he could mimic the 
telephone company’s single-frequency (SF) dialing system, just like Ralph Barclay had figured 
out in 1961. To dial the area code 212, for example, Engressia would whistle two quick bursts 
of 2,600, followed by one quick burst, followed by two more quick bursts: beep beep . . . beep . . 
. beep beep ! So the entire dance went like this. First, dial a call to a free long-distance number, 
such as directory assistance. Then give one long whistle to reset the long-distance trunk. Then 
whistle the pulses that made up the ten-digit phone number, one digit — one pulse — at a time. It 
was simply the whistling equivalent of the hook switch dialing he had learned as a little kid. 

The trick gained him popularity. “The guys in the dormitory were calling me The Whistler.’ 
Crowds of up to forty people would follow me around,” he said. The students “begged me to 
make the calls.” Engressia obliged, charging $1 for a whistled long-distance call to anywhere in 
the United States. Though it’s not quite a free call at that point, Engressia’s rates were still a 
bargain compared to AT&T’s, which were then about $2.60 for a five-minute cross-country call 
— roughly $17 today. 

While attempting to whistle a call to Long Island, New York, he “whistled wrong” and wound 
up connected to an operator in Montreal, Canada. This was an easy mistake to make. Long 
Island is area code 516, Montreal is area code 514; screw up by just two little beeps and you 
wind up two hundred miles north. Nonetheless, Engressia managed to convince the operator to 
connect him to the New York number. But the operator “was suspicious and monitored the call. 
Naturally the student I put the call through for talked extensively about the ‘whiz kid’ who had 
placed his free call,” he said. “The operator broke in and managed to get the student to identify 
himself and where he was calling from.” 

An investigation ensued. Word eventually made it back from Bell Canada in Montreal to 
General Telephone, the independent telephone company in the Tampa area. GTE contacted 
the university, trying to identify the source of the whistled calls. Engressia was fingered. His 
sudden popularity came to an equally sudden end. 

Despite having a crime and a culprit, GTE sensed a potential publicity black eye. As a 
security officer for the company wisely put it, the firm had nothing to gain by prosecuting a blind 
college student. Meanwhile, another GTE spokesman used the incident to pioneer what would 
become a standard response by the telephone company — and, years later, by high-tech 
software companies — when presented with claims of security vulnerabilities in their products 
and services: disbelief and denial. “It could happen — but did it really?” the spokesman said. “It 
would take a lot of sophisticated equipment and even then the probability of being able to do 
this is remote.” Whether this was genuine ignorance, willful disbelief, or just a bit of misdirection 
to discourage would-be imitators is unclear. 

As punishment for his crimes of whistling free telephone calls the USF dean of student affairs 
told Engressia that he would be “allowed to withdraw” for the rest of the term. If Engressia didn’t 
want to withdraw, the dean said, he would be suspended. Engressia declined the dean’s offer. 
“I didn’t want to sacrifice all the course work I had done already this quarter,” he said, and noted 
that his grade point average was between an A and a B. 

Engressia was suspended from the University of South Florida on November 15, 1968. He 

appealed the decision soon after. Engressia’s sister Toni was in her last year of high school in 
Miami when the USF whistling scandal occurred. She recalls coming home one day and being 
told by her mother, “Your brother has been doing something illegal with the phone. They say 
he’s been whistling into the phone and making long-distance calls.” Her mother explained 
about the dean’s decision and Joe’s appeal and said that they needed to go to Tampa to be 
with Joe. Toni, her high school boyfriend, and Esther made the five-hour drive, leaving 
Engressia’s father home with his jobs and the family’s dogs. Asked by a reporter what she 
thought of her son’s telephone antics, Esther Engressia responded, “We’re going to stick right 
by him. Anyone who can outsmart a computer — I’m with them.” 

On December 10, Engressia presented his case at a two-hour public hearing before the 
university’s nine-member disciplinary appeals board, where he told his story with the help of a 
student advocate. He noted that he had stopped making the free calls on his own initiative. “It 
was a mistake and I’m sorry I did it,” he said, “but not because I got caught. My action was 
totally irresponsible and it shouldn’t be condoned, but I don’t think I should be penalized for a 
first offense so severely that it practically cuts off my education.” 

The appeals board handed down its decision the next day. Engressia would be allowed to 
remain in school but would be placed on probation. The board also ordered him to donate $25 
— the amount he said he had made whistling calls at $1 apiece — to a worthy cause. 

“I think the verdict was very favorable,” Engressia told newspapers afterward. “I’m happy that 
I can stay in school.” 

Engressia’s whistling scandal had another positive outcome. Shortly after his suspension 
back in November the press had gotten wind of things. It started when the Oracle, the USF 
student newspaper, did a story on him, Engressia recalls, “and then the AP or something 
picked it up, and then it was on the Huntley-Brinkley network news show.” Indeed, the AP 
newswire story was covered in dozens of papers throughout the world. Calls began pouring in 
for him. ”lt was sort of exciting, people calling from Australia and all these places to talk with the 
Whistler,” he remembers. The attention amazed and delighted him; it was a far cry from his 
mother’s familiar shout of “Hang up the phone and leave it alone!” Of the publicity he says, “At 
that age I had never even thought of that, ’cause the phone was always something ... oh, you 
know, ‘talking about stupid phones all the time.’ But people were actually excited about what I 
could do!” 

Soon after the burst of media attention, Engressia received a letter in the mail with a Kansas 
City postmark. The writer had seen Engressia on the Huntley-Brinkley television show and 
wanted to introduce himself. Like Engressia, he was a ham operator and telephone enthusiast. 
Might they talk by phone, or make contact via amateur radio, and discuss certain items of 
mutual interest? 

It was Engressia’s introduction to B. David, the mysterious correspondent Jake Locke had 
met via the Fine Arts 13 classified ad at Harvard a year and a half earlier. Over the next year 
Engressia and B. David discussed all manner of things related to the telephone. By April 1 969, 
just four months after his disciplinary hearing at USF, Engressia was back to his telephonic 
games; this time he had tricked a switchman in a Miami telephone central office into wiring up a 
pair of telephone lines to form what was called an open-sleeve-lead conference. Essentially a 
cross between a cheese box and a black box, this circuit allowed two people to call into it and 
talk to each other without being billed. Engressia and B. David used this circuit to stay in touch 
between Miami and Kansas City, but they weren’t its only users. A suspicious Southern Bell 
employee who discovered the setup and listened to the calls on it found “a good deal of 
discussion that students at the University of South Florida were being supplied pairs of 
numbers which would allow toll free conversations.” Additional investigation revealed similar 

circuits had been set up in Orlando and other cities. The telephone company quietly removed 
them from service. 

Then, on August 27, 1 969, the telephone cord hit the fan. A Southwestern Bell security agent 
working a blue box case up in Kansas City discovered something alarming and called the FBI. 
Though he wouldn’t tell Bureau agents how he had learned of it, he said that “B. David and 
Engressia have, through sophisticated electronic equipment, intercepted and monitored 
telephone toll calls.” More disturbingly, he said, the two had also discovered a way to intercept 
calls on a “highly classified, Top Secret telephone system used only by the White House.” He 
reported two other people in connection with this caper: an employee of United Airlines in 
Chicago and a young blind man named Tandy Way — Joe Engressia’s sixth-grade pal down in 

A flurry of urgent investigation ensued. FBI agents were dispatched to meet with Southern 
Bell telephone security in Miami and interview Engressia, B. David, and Tandy Way. It was a 
tempest in a teapot, said Miami telephone company investigators. Yes, they obviously knew of 
Engressia and had been following his and Tandy Way’s activities for the past year or so, but 
basically they were considered to be harmless pests. Their investigation had not revealed that 
the two had intercepted any telephone calls or wiretapped any lines, civilian or military, and that 
“the activities of Engressia and Way have been strictly for their own amusement and 
harassment of the telephone company.” For their parts, Engressia, Way, and David all told the 
FBI, in essence, that yes, they were fascinated with telephones but, no, they hadn’t done 
anything wrong, and they certainly hadn’t intercepted any calls and didn’t know nuthin’ ’bout no 
top secret White House telephone system. FBI headquarters called a halt to the investigation, 
but not before sending off posterior-covering letters to the White House, the secretary of 
defense, and the head of the Secret Service to let them know that their communications 
systems were alleged to be vulnerable. A few days later an attorney at the Justice Department 
blessed the FBI’s stand-down: there was “not a sufficient indication of a violation under the 
Interception of Communications Statute to justify investigation,” he said. 

Engressia and company had gotten lucky; cooler heads had prevailed and decided this was 
all much ado about nothing. B. David, however, was not one to leave well enough alone. After 
his visit from the FBI, he concluded that the telephone company must have been illegally 
monitoring his conversations with Joe Engressia. In fact, he believed that the FBI agents had 
confirmed this during their interview with him. He proceeded to write an audacious two-page 
letter to the Kansas City FBI office citing chapter and verse of the Communications Act of 1934 
and demanding that the Bureau turn the tables and investigate the telephone company for 
illegal wiretapping. It is unclear if the FBI ever gave David the courtesy of a response, but an 
internal FBI memo stated that B. David “is believed to be totally unreliable and his allegations 
are unfounded.” 

Despite his upbeat quotes to the press after his whistling incident was resolved, Engressia 
remembers his years at USF as far from happy. Partly this was a lack of focus. “I wasn’t really 
sure why I was in college,” he says. Engressia drifted from one major to another — business 
administration, mathematics, electrical engineering. “I didn’t really know why I had come, 
except that was just the next step that you do. I hadn’t really thought it through at the time, what I 

The bigger part of his unhappiness was simply this: he was lonely. Thanks to the publicity 
surrounding his whistling escapades he had started getting calls from other phone phreaks in 
addition to B. David. “That was the first glimpse that there were even other people in the world 
interested in phones,” he says. But now, even though he finally knew there were others like him 
out there, he couldn’t talk to them — at least not on any regular basis. “In college I didn’t have a 

phone where I could dial out direct,” he remembers; students in the dorms weren’t allowed to 
have their own telephone lines. For most this would be a minor inconvenience, but for 
Engressia it cut him off from the one thing that had provided him with years of comfort — and the 
thing that now promised to connect him to other people like him. His phone phreak fixes had to 
come from quick calls on the dorm pay phone, occasional trips home on weekends, and 
summer vacation. 

“I did get on the phone some in college but I didn’t have much money to speak of, $40 a 
month I think it was, of spending money where they gave me a state scholarship for the blind. It 
would be $6 to town for cab fare, so I didn’t get out much,” he recalls. “I might have stayed in 
college if I could have had the contacts, you know, on the phone and everything,” he says. But 
as it was, he says, “I was so lonesome and depressed there, in college. It was just one of my 
sad times.” 

Engressia quit school and left USF about a year short of his degree, moving to Memphis, 
Tennessee, in March 1971 . “When I left for Memphis, that was when my life started,” he says. 

He was determined to have his own apartment, one with his own phone, where he’d be able 
talk to other phone phreaks as much as he wanted. Too, he was tired of living off of his state 
aid-to-the-blind check. He wanted to be independent, to have a job, to be part of society — to “be 
a man,” as he put it. 

The apartment was easy. The job was harder. He applied at dozens of places, “as a 
switchboard operator, or just about anything, really.” He heard one word a whole lot: no. The 
word wasn’t always one syllable with two letters, n-o. “It came in a lot of forms,” he said, but it 
always spelled the same thing in the end. We don’t think it would be safe for you to work at our 
company, you might bump into a ladder and hurt yourself. We don’t see how you could possibly 
be a switchboard operator — how would you dial? 

The weeks slipped by. The Nos wore on him. “I got desperate,” he said, “$97-per-month 
welfare wasn’t providing me a decent standard of living ... I had heard that when you live on 
welfare you live on beans and baloney. Well, I went down to the grocery store and, you know, 
beans and baloney aren’t so cheap anymore!” 

Desperation is the mother of invention. Engressia invented a plan that can only be described 
as crazy: “I decided that since I had come so close to getting a job down in Florida by getting 
arrested — which was a mistake on my part, to have gotten caught, at that time — I decided to 
actually plan to get caught.” He would engineer his own bust by the telephone company and 
use the resulting publicity to get a job. “I called it my great gamble. I knew it would either pay off 
or I’d fail.” 

Engressia set upon his task with urgency. “This was in late April and I only had money to last 
me until the end of July,” he said. “I was running out of money and I needed to do something.” 
Worse, much of his great gamble was out of his control. What if the phone company didn’t do 
anything or took too long to do it? “I didn’t want them to wait too long, either.” 

He called the telephone company and reported troubles with his line. He knew this would 
prompt somebody at the telephone company’s test board to connect to his line to test it for 
problems. When he heard what he described as the “subtle impedance change” indicating that 
a test man was on the line, he began narrating a series of telephonic tricks for the benefit of his 
invisible audience. “I just said, ‘Oh, I’m going to call Russia now.’” Calling through a satellite 
circuit, “I whistled up the U.S. embassy in Moscow and talked for about two hours pretending I 
was a talk show host and [the embassy operator] was a talk show [guest]. They heard that and 
then I made a couple of other free calls and gave my phone number and then used the blue box 
after it,” he said. “Then,” he said, “I called this place called NORAD headquarters, something to 
do with the military, and I called it on a priority circuit. For some reason it rubbed them the 

wrong way.” 

After the first evening Engressia felt sure that the phone company would soon wiretap his 
line. He hinted cryptically at his plan to get a job by getting arrested as he talked to his 
eavesdroppers: “I have only to July, so I must fly. Don’t sit home and sob, blue box and get a 
job.” He performed more stunts to impress the telephone company. “I remember one time they 
were playing around with my line and they cut the current off and the phone wouldn’t work. So I 
hooked up a 30-watt amplifier and a microphone,” he recalled. This he used to transmit his 
voice into the malfunctioning telephone line, betting that technicians in the telephone company 
central office or test board would be listening. “I wonder if a blind person himself could really 
hook up an amplifier in the dark all by himself?” he said into the phone line. 

Engressia figured that, thanks to his attention-getting tricks, the phone company was 
probably now wiretapping his line on a continual basis. But he couldn’t know for sure. And so, 
he said, “I hooked up a circuit so I could monitor the line while it was still on the hook.” With this 
circuitry in place he could leave his phone hung up and yet still hear what the telephone 
company was up to as his line was being worked on. He quickly determined that the phone 
company was indeed monitoring him. Best of all, the phone company’s monitoring circuit 
inadvertently worked both ways. “Their voice was leaking through the monitor that they had. I 
could hear them talking! They said, ‘Did you hear what they said? He said something about 
hooking up a microphone!’ 

“In a sense I was tapping the tappers,” Engressia gleefully recalled. “That made me feel good 
because I knew my plan was under way,” he said. “I’m counting the days to my first paycheck.” 

The telephone company later admitted that it began investigating Engressia when he’d first 
reported troubles with his telephone line. A few weeks later they sent an undercover security 
agent posing as a magazine reporter to interview Engressia at his apartment in Memphis. The 
agent was “freely shown how the whistle calls were placed and the equipment in the young 
man’s possession.” 

On June 2, 1971, as he was waiting on the sidewalk for a cab, a deep voice of someone 
nearby asked him if he was Joe Engressia. He said that he was. The voice replied, “You’re 
under arrest.” 

He spent the night in jail. “I was gonna call some newspapers but two of them came to the 
jail, and then a TV network came to interview me the next day.” His publicity plan seemed to be 
working but, even so, the experience of going to jail was unnerving. Everything might go 
perfectly or he just might end up stuck in jail. “You talk about a combination of emotions,” he 
said. “I was happy, sad, excited, scared, nervous, everything imaginable lumped into one.” 

When the police searched Engressia’s place that evening they found “complex telephone 
equipment devised by Engressia in his tiny apartment. It included pushbutton gadgets that 
could be programmed to transfer calls to neighbors’ telephones.” 

Arraigned before Judge Ray Churchill of the Memphis City Court, Engressia was charged 
with two counts of fraud for making free calls. Despite entering an innocent plea to the charges, 
he told the court, “I’ve done wrong and the telephone company has every right to prosecute 
me.” He added that he was “just fascinated with phones.” Judge Churchill released him on $1 
bail and ordered the trial continued until the next week. 

“Some folks are on dope, I was on telephones,” Engressia told reporters after his arrest. “I 
knew it would get me into trouble, but when I got lonely I would reach for the phone and it would 
be there.” 

Judge Churchill called Engressia’s trial to order on June 8. Things did not go swimmingly for 
the prosecution. A telephone company security agent in court played a tape of some of 
Engressia’s phone calls for the judge, Engressia recalls. During one of the calls an operator 

asked Engressia for his telephone number. “The operator would say ‘number please’ and I said 
526-6156,” Engressia remembers. Judge Churchill asked whose number that was. The 
telephone company security agents responded that, in fact, 526-6156 was Engressia’s 
telephone number. 

Judge Churchill exploded, Engressia says: “He gave his own number and you know who he 
called and you know how long he talked. Why didn’t you just bill him for the call?” 

The security agents responded that Engressia was a threat to national security. He calls 
through a satellite sometimes, they said. 

Who owns that satellite? Judge Churchill asked. 

The security agents admitted that they weren’t sure of the exact ownership of the satellite. 

Engressia recalls Judge Churchill’s response: “You don’t even own the satellite! I don’t 
know, I oughta just throw this whole thing out. You know, if I had known what this is about, I 
wouldn’t have signed the warrant.” 

The judge was “more sympathetic to my side than even I was,” Engressia says. 

Judge Churchill ultimately decided that there was not enough evidence to convene a grand 
jury. He reduced the charges to two counts of malicious mischief. “I can understand how he 
was driving them crazy,” the judge allowed. In addition to a $1 0 fine, Judge Churchill sentenced 
Engressia to sixty days in jail. 

“He paused awhile,” Engressia recalls, and then the judge said, “Sentence suspended.” 

“Boy, it felt good to go out in the sun that day!” Engressia says. “That was enough to 
persuade me that stuff was over.” From that point forward, Engressia decided, there would be 
no more illegal phone calls. In the future, he says, when there was a knock on his door he 
wanted to know that it would always be a friendly knock. 

As for Engressia’s great gamble, his plan to “blue box and get a job”? 

“I got four job offers the next week,” Engressia said. The mining and manufacturing company 
3M flew him up to Minnesota for an interview and offered him a job in a research laboratory but 
he declined; it didn’t have anything to do with telephones and he didn’t want to spend his time 
“figuring out the right grain pattern for sandpaper,” he says. In the end he accepted a two-dollar- 
an-hour job at a small but nearby independent telephone company called Millington 
Telephone. “I guess they’ll have me do whatever I can that they need done; maybe I can work 
on the test board,” he said. 

“I don’t recommend that method of getting a job,” Engressia said several years later, “but it 
worked for me.” 



It was A conspiracy, obviously. A conspiracy organized by God himself, one made up of little 
blind kids out to drive the phone company crazy. What else could explain the fact that Bill Acker 
and Joe Engressia shared a birthday? What else could explain the fact that, like Engressia, 
Acker was born blind? 

As with Engressia and his sister, the doctors didn’t know what caused it. Acker’s father, who 
had long suffered from seizures, killed himself in 1955 when Bill was two, leaving Bill’s mother 
to raise him and his brother. Though his aunt Kaye and their extended Irish Catholic family 
were a big help to the three of them, Acker says, they were mostly on their own. Acker is quick 

to acknowledge that things were tough for his mom — “No kidding, she had it hard,” he says — 
but he recalls his childhood as being “all about her moods, her emotions.” 

The public schools in Farmingdale, New York, weren’t wholly prepared to handle a blind kid. 
“The one teacher didn’t know what to do with me and let an itinerant teacher do it all. I sat in 
class and didn’t really get any attention, except from the itinerant teacher,” he says. “Even 
though I do remember that I was being ignored, I was fine with it. From my point of view, school 
was fine. I could daydream and do what I do. It didn’t hurt my feelings that I wasn’t getting an 
education.” Unfortunately, says Acker, “I wasn’t catching on to Braille,” something thought to be 
very important for the blind in those days. So when Bill was not yet seven his mom sent him off 
to the Lavelle School for the Blind in the Bronx. Run by Dominican nuns, Lavelle was partly a 
residential school — along with several hundred other blind kids, Bill would stay there during the 
week and come home on weekends. 

Educationally it may have been an improvement from being ignored, but it was far from 
paradise. “I was able to absorb enough stuff, but I was not motivated,” Acker says. The nuns 
“branded me lazy over the whole Braille thing. That just sort of tuned me out. ‘Okay, fine, if you 
think I’m lazy, what the hey . . .’” Some people might work hard to disprove an accusation of 
laziness but, Acker says, “unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them.” So he “skimped by on my 
education. That wasn’t where it was at for me.” 

Where it was at for Acker was technology. Fie had been fascinated with technology for as 
long as he can remember. As a kid, “going outside was almost like a punishment,” he says. 
“There was nothing for me outside. There was no technology outside.” 

Ah, but inside! Inside there was AM radio, shortwave radio, television. Acker spent much of 
his childhood learning about radios, how they work and how to make them work better. 
“DXing” — hunting down radio signals from places as distant as possible — was the equivalent of 
collecting baseball cards for young Bill Acker. DXing required patience, perseverance, and a 
solid understanding of how radio worked. Acker had these qualities in spades. Before he 
became a teenager, Acker needed almost no sleep and didn’t like staying in bed. “There was 
an unspoken understanding: so long as I didn’t disturb anybody I could stay up late — or wake 
up really early, like 3:30 a.m. — and do whatever I wanted,” he says. So on many occasions 
Acker tuned old radios and searched for faint transmissions from faraway places in the wee 
hours of the morning. 

In 1963, when Acker was ten, his mother thought her son needed to get out more. She 
pushed for him to attend Camp Wapanacki, a summer camp for blind kids in Vermont. Acker 
reluctantly agreed to go, he says, but only because he saw it as an opportunity to bring his 
radio and hear new DX signals from places he hadn’t been able to receive in Farmingdale. 

Inside had another piece of technology besides radio and TV: the telephone. “I remember 
being five or six years old and picking up the phone,” Acker says. “If you picked up the phone 
and waited for the dial tone to go away, you got a high tone,” a loud, incessant tone that 
indicated you had left your phone off hook and that reminded you to hang it up — designed to 
get your attention, in other words. The tone succeeded in getting Acker’s attention. It intrigued 
him. What was it? Flow did it work? 

In hindsight, this was probably not the kind of attention the telephone company wanted. 

When he was fourteen, Acker decided it would be cool to find out where all the area codes 
were. Fle’s not sure today exactly why he thought this would be cool, but teenagers are like that 
— it seemed like a good idea at the time. Acker remembered the telephone company 
commercial where a little jingle encouraged you to call 555-1212, the so-called universal 
information number, a free call in every area code. For Acker, free was good; his mother wasn’t 
about to pay for him to make long-distance calls to every area code. 

Acker’s plan was straightforward. “I’ll just dial every area code and 555-1212 and learn 
where the area codes were. I’d just talk to the operator and say, ‘Where are you? Where are 
you located?”’ The operators were surprisingly game for this. Several hundred calls later Acker 
had constructed an area code map of the United States in his head, a map that remains there to 
this day, revised, updated, and annotated with all the telephonic esoterica he’s learned since. 

His fascination grew. “Just being exposed to the network, how the different directory 
assistance operators sounded,” he says, was like discovering a new world. The operators’ 
accents differed from place to place, but even the sounds of the calls themselves — that is, the 
sounds that the telephone switching equipment made as the calls were being placed and 
routed through the network — well, those sounds varied almost as much as the operators’ 
accents! Why was that? How did it all work? 

In December 1 968 someone pointed out to Acker an odd newspaper article about a blind kid 
at a university down in Tampa who could make free phone calls just by whistling a certain tone. 
Acker found the article interesting but figured it didn’t apply to him. “I knew enough about the 
phone system by then to know that Tampa was independent,” he says, meaning that its 
telephone service was provided by a telephone company other than AT&T and the Bell 
System. In contrast, Acker’s community was served by Bell. “So I basically said, ‘Gee, it’s really 
nice if you could do those things if you’re in an independent telephone company such as 
Tampa, but I guess that can’t have much bearing on me. After all, I live in the Bell System, so it 
must work completely differently.’” 

Acker continued his experiments with the phone system. He was fascinated by tones, by the 
sounds that the telephone system made. He tried lots of different things — just playing around, 
really. For example, Acker knew that every touch-tone digit is made up of two different tones 
that are added together. That is, when you press the 1 button your phone generates two 
different tones and adds them together. Equipment at your telephone company’s central office 
hears these two tones and figures out from them that you dialed a 1. Acker says, “I discovered 
that if you added a third tone to a touch-tone, you could block the digits from being received. So 
if you pressed the digit one but you added some arbitrary tone on top of that, the central office 
wouldn’t recognize the digit at all.” 

In other words, Acker had found that, with enough work, you can screw up your own dialing. 
My goodness, what a discovery! A normal person wouldn’t think twice about this; come to think 
of it, a normal person wouldn’t even think once about this. But phone phreaks aren’t normal 
people. For Acker, the discovery that you could play a tone into the phone and goof up its 
operation gave him an idea. 

He knew that when he made a long-distance call from his house he could hear the switching 
equipment sending tones down the line to complete his call. He knew these tones didn’t sound 
like touch tones; they were something else. They weren’t very loud. Probably they were far 
away, he thought. But, if he could hear them, maybe whatever equipment was listening to them 
could hear him. And if that equipment could hear him, maybe he could disrupt the tones, just 
like he could with his touch-tone phone at home. “If I make a very loud noise,” Acker recalls 
thinking, maybe “I can block those tones from happening, and then I can substitute my own 
tones, by tape recording them and playing them back.” 

Acker looked around to find something that could make a loud noise. He figured he needed 
something really loud to disrupt the tones, given how faint they were. 

“What I came up with was a little toy flute called the Tonette,” he recalls. “The Tonette had a 
detachable mouthpiece and that made a very, very loud shriek if you blew it. I thought that 
shriek was the most perfect shriek I could make.” 

Acker dialed several long-distance calls. Each time he would wait until the switching 

equipment began its electronic concert, sending its quick little musical MF tones down the line. 
Each time he would jump into the concert, uninvited, playing his Tonette flute as loud as he 
could while the tones were being played. It was a jam session: he was trying to jam the 
switching equipment. 

It didn’t work. T ry as he might, he didn’t seem to be able to block the phone company’s tones. 
The calls went through every time. His loud whistle was a loud bust. 

Then something funny happened. Once, Acker recalls, “I kept that tone on too long after the 
call started to go through. And when I let go of the tone, the call didn’t seem to want to go 
through. It went chunk wink! It made two clicks. And I didn’t understand that. It stopped the call 
from going through, but I didn’t feel like I had accomplished anything.” While he might have 
succeeded in stopping the call from completing, he didn’t know why. It certainly didn’t seem to 
have anything to do with his blocking the musical tones the phone company was sending. In 
fact, it seemed to work best to stop the call if he played the tone after the call had started to go 

After repeating the experiment a few times, some audio matching circuitry deep in Bill 
Acker’s brain woke up and got out of bed. The resonant, hollow sound of the long-distance 
circuit between the chunk and the wink that followed his whistling reminded him of something: 
the sound of an operator plugging her cord into an outgoing long-distance trunk. It all fell into 
place. “I realized very quickly that the 2,600 Hz stuff did apply to me, and that’s what the 
Tonette squeal happened to be.” Maybe it wasn’t exactly 2,600 Hz, maybe it was a little bit 
lower or a little bit higher in pitch, but it didn’t matter; whatever it was, “it was close enough to 
twenty-six to drop a connection reliably.” The stuff in the newspaper article about the blind kid 
in Tampa did apply to him! “It seems strange in retrospect that I didn’t get it as quickly as I could 
have,” he says. 

With this, Acker was able to disconnect a call in progress. But that’s only half the game; you 
then have to be able to tell the switching equipment where you want your new call sent. His 
original plan to do this had been to tape-record the faint MF tones that the phone company’s 
signaling equipment was sending out and then play them back. This plan was great in theory 
but suffered from one slight flaw in practice: he didn’t have a tape recorder. But he figured he 
could do the same thing that the Engressia kid in Florida did: whistle bursts of 2,600 Hz to dial 
a call. Acker had no problem figuring out that his beloved Tonette whistle could be used to 
beep the appropriate number of beeps to dial a telephone number. The problem was finding a 
place in the telephone network that would accept this antiquated SF signaling technique. Lucky 
Joe Engressia just happened to live in a place where that worked. Not so Bill Acker. 

“I knew it was my job to find a place that would take SF,” he recalls. 

Acker had a friend, John, who sometimes joined him on his telephonic explorations. 
Together, they started scouting out locations on the telephone network that would work for 
them. They dialed lots of places and tried to make calls using pulses of 2,600 Hz but didn’t 
meet with any success. Then, one Sunday night toward the end of 1968, Acker happened to 
call Halifax, Nova Scotia (area code 902, if you’re wondering). He noticed immediately that “it 
sounded like a very different kind of a system.” Unfortunately, Acker had to go into school the 
next day, so he didn’t get a chance to experiment with it that night. The next time he saw his 
friend he said, “John, try Halifax, it sounds a little different, maybe we’ll be able to do it.” 

The next afternoon at school Acker was paged to the principal’s office, saying that he had a 
phone call. Acker went down to the administration office, where he was handed the telephone. 
“So I pick up the phone call and I hear this long-distance noise on the line and a very excited 
John on the other end of the line saying, ‘It works, it works! 902! You can do it!’ So then we 
knew we were in.” From then on, Acker says, “We routed all of our fun and games through 

Halifax, Nova Scotia.” Acker would just dial 902-555-1 21 2, whistle off, whistle the pulses for the 
number he wanted, and he was off to the races. 

Using the Tonette whistle got old quickly. Acker needed a way to reliably make a controlled 
number of carefully timed pulses of 2,600 Hz. What better way than with a telephone dial? After 
all, that’s exactly what your telephone dial does: it makes a controlled number of pulses on your 
telephone line. But, of course, he needed more than just a rotary phone, because a rotary 
phone just makes clicks or pulses and Acker needed beeps of 2,600 Hz. Fortunately, Acker 
was a ham radio operator and back in those days ham operators used Morse code to 
communicate. Acker rewired an old rotary phone and connected it to a Morse code practice 
oscillator that he had lying around. He tuned the oscillator to 2,600 Hz. Voila! Now if he dialed a 
7 he got seven perfect beeps at just the right pitch. No Tonette flute required. He didn’t know it, 
of course, but Acker had just independently re-created the very first box that Ralph Barclay had 
built back at Washington State some eight years earlier. 

The Morse code practice oscillator connected to the telephone dial was a great stopgap 
measure, but Acker wanted to get back to his original plan of recording the outgoing MF tones 
that he could hear the phone company equipment sending and then playing them back into the 
phone. Finally, early in 1 969, Acker got his hands on a small Panasonic cassette tape recorder. 
Once he captured the phone company’s tones on tape he could splice up the tape to select the 
particular digits he wanted and play them back — the network would be his oyster. Not only 
would this be easier than playing his Tonette flute or using the slightly clunky Morse code 
practice lash-up, it also meant he would no longer have to dial all his calls through Halifax as 
multifrequency tones were accepted pretty much anywhere in the network. 

He ran into a problem, however. Although he could indeed hear and record the tones sent 
out by the switching equipment, he discovered that the tones were distorted. “It’s all highs and 
no lows,” Acker says. If you think of the phone network as a big stereo, it was as if somebody 
had cranked the tone control way over to one side, with the effect of toning down the bass notes 
and jacking up the treble notes. If you recorded these tones and tried to play them back, you’d 
be playing what Acker describes as a “very tinny” concert for the phone company; the remote 
switching equipment you were serenading “isn’t really going to be interested,” he says. 

“So,” Acker says, “I knew I had to do something to the audio. What could I do? The tape 
recorder was a cheap cassette machine with automatic level control,” he recalls. There was 
nothing he could do to adjust it. “What you got, you got. I didn’t have access to an equalizer, I’m 
not even sure if I knew such a thing existed back then. So I went to my junk drawer and pulled 
out a component.” Unable to see the components, of course, he worked by feel. “I don’t know 
what this is. It’s a can, it has a lead at each end, it could have been a resistor, it could have 
been a capacitor. I didn’t really know,” he recalls. 

“I put it across the output of the tape recorder. And that did a great thing!” Bill exclaims, 
excitement in his voice more than forty years later. “It did a wonderful job of rolling off the highs, 
it was much ‘bassier,’ and I was just in.” 

It wasn’t too long before he came up with something even better than recording tones from 
the telephone company: an electronic organ. The Lavelle school had a Hammond organ that 
could be used to create the frequencies he needed to generate MF tones and transfer them to 
tape. “I used to go in there and record all the numbers I needed for the weekend,” he says. 
Acker and his friends made a master tape from the Hammond. “You know, KP, 1 , 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 
8, 9, ST, and a lot of 2,600 Hz.” With smaller tape recorders with pause buttons, “we could 
pretty much make tapes of whatever we wanted.” What did his teachers think of his unorthodox 
use of the school’s organ? “They had no clue!” Reflecting on it a bit more he allows, “I think the 
music teacher did know what we were doing but he kind of looked the other way.” Either way, 

he says, it was “a bucket of fun!” 

In May 1969, just ten days shy of his sixteenth birthday, Acker received a surprise telephone 

“We had done something that I knew stood a chance of getting us in trouble,” he recalls. In 
the old days, when you made a long-distance call and the person you were calling answered 
the phone, a supervision signal was sent back to the billing equipment instructing it to start 
charging for the call. If the phone just rang and rang without ever being answered, no 
supervision signal was ever sent back; that’s why you didn’t get charged for phone calls that 
weren’t answered. The phone company also used this technique to make certain internal test 
numbers toll-free; the circuitry for those numbers was configured not to send back supervision. 
In phone phreak parlance, such calls were said not to “supe.” 

The telephone company did this on a large scale with the directory assistance number, 555- 
1212. Calls to 555-1212 were free because they didn’t supe — from the telephone company 
billing equipment’s standpoint, calls to those numbers never seemed to be answered. 

But there’s a subtle problem here if you’re a phone phreak with a blue box or, like Acker, a 
phone phreak with tape recordings of blue box tones. If you call 555-1212 in a distant area 
code and then whistle it off and use your blue box or tape recordings to reroute the call to a 
normal telephone number, you’ve just given the phone company a clue that you’re up to no 
good. Why? Well, remember, a call to 555-1212 never supes. Except that when you reroute the 
call to a normal telephone number and your friend answers the phone, the call does supe — the 
instant your friend answers the phone. Acker was starting his exploration of the network by 
dialing 555-1 21 2, a number that should never look like it answered. “Yet when we were through 
with the call, it did, because we connected to things that answered.” 

At that point, the phone company billing records show something anomalous: here’s a call to 
a number, 555-1212, that should never look like it answered and yet it does. The phone 
company doesn’t like anomalies in its network, not so much because they think somebody 
might be messing with them, but just because anomalies probably mean that something is 
broken somewhere and needs repair. 

“I knew that was an irregularity,” Acker says. “My fear was, you know, if this registers on your 
tape” — Acker knew the phone company in those days used paper tape for billing records 
— “they’ll be able to tell that [the call] answered, and they know it’s not supposed to.” Acker’s 
fears were right on the money. The phone company was indeed using computer-generated 
reports of supervision irregularities to spot blue boxes. Along with Greenstar, these reports 
were a primary tool the Bell System used to detect such fraud and, due to Greenstar’s secrecy, 
were among the most effective for prosecution. 

Acker’s surprise caller was a security agent from his telephone company, New York 
Telephone. The agent had already talked to Acker’s friend John, likely because of 555-1212 
supervision anomalies. But the reason the agent wanted to talk to Acker was more concrete. 
John had ratted out Acker to the security agent. 

“He spilled his guts,” Acker says. “That was just an inconceivable no-no to me. That pretty 
much trashed our friendship. Forever and ever.” Forty years later you can still hear the intensity 
in Acker’s voice. “When you get in trouble, you don’t squeal on anybody.” Even today Acker still 
sometimes worries that the phone company may have caught some phone phreaks simply by 
surreptitiously monitoring Acker’s telephone line. The thought that he might have inadvertently 
gotten people in trouble merely by talking to them on his home phone is bad enough, he says. 
“But to actually give up the name of another phreak was just . . . just horrible.” Somehow Acker 
had picked up the concept of omerta, honoring a code of silence. “I don’t know where I got that 
ethic. I believe it was the right ethic, but I don’t know where I got it from,” he says. 

The New York Telephone security agent told Acker that his illegal dialing had to stop. “He 
was as firm as he had to be,” Acker recalls. “He didn’t go out of his way to scare us, but he laid 
it out for us. I don’t even recall him saying, ‘If you don’t stop we’re gonna send the FBI after 
you,’ but he made it clear that it had to stop.” 

“I like learning about the network,” Acker told the security agent. 

“I can appreciate that,” was the agent’s reply. “It was nice of him to say that,” says Acker, “but 
the bottom line was, you gotta stop.” 

So Acker stopped. 

Or so it appeared, at least to all outward appearances; his fingers stopped dialing around the 
network and he quit playing with the MF tapes on his Panasonic tape recorder. But his brain 
just wouldn’t stop thinking about this stuff. “I realized that 555 had gotten us in trouble,” Acker 
says. What he needed, it seemed, was a safer way to access the network, one that wouldn’t get 
him in trouble again. The telephone company delivered. Just a few years earlier the company 
had introduced an innovative new service, something called an 800 number. These numbers 
were free to the caller because the person or company being called paid the bill. That doesn’t 
seem like such a big deal today, now that long-distance is so cheap, but back then, given how 
expensive calls were, it was a big deal. 

Since calls to 800 numbers were free, like 555-1212, they were a good place to start a blue- 
boxed call. But 800 numbers didn’t have the pesky problem that 555-1212 did. “When an 800 
number answers, it answered. It went off hook, all the way back to you,” Acker says. In other 
words, 800 numbers returned supervision. Acker’s theory was that if he used 800 numbers for 
blue boxing, “they looked like normal calls to an 800 number.” That meant no telephone 
network anomalies for the phone company to investigate. And that meant no more phone 
company security calls to Bill Acker. Or so he hoped. Of course, it might look suspicious if you 
had too many calls to 800 numbers — normal people just didn’t call that many 800 numbers 
back in 1 969, or talk very long on them — but, says Acker, “it was obviously safer than 555.” 

The telephone call from the security agent scared him into going straight for a bit, he says. 
But it wore off. “That’s the problem with ‘scared straight,’ it doesn’t hold,” Acker says. “It lasted 
for maybe a few months.” 

And then? 

“And then I couldn’t resist doing it again.” 



J oe engressia and Bill Acker weren’t the only kids playing with the telephone in 1 968. As early 
as 1964 teenagers had begun to discover an interesting quirk of the telephone system.Certain 
telephone exchanges in some areas of the country, notably Los Angeles and San Jose in 
California, had busy signals that were shared among all callers. An example was San Jose’s 
291 exchange in the 408 area code. If you and I both happened to call busy numbers in 408- 
291 we would be connected, faintly, over the busy signal — along with anyone else who 
happened to have called a busy number at that moment. If we shouted we could hear each 
other. Of course, we’d be constantly annoyed by the baaa . . . baaa . . . baaa of the busy signal. 
And that busy signal was loud; our voices would be the background to the busy signal in the 
foreground. “It was an insane way to try to communicate,” recalls Jim Fettgather, a teenager at 

the time in San Jose. But talkable busy signals were free and they became surprisingly 
popular. Lots of people could be on one at once and that made them a hangout, a great way for 
bored kids to meet each other and trade phone numbers. They also served as a sort of subtle 
introduction. “I didn’t even realize that was the beginning of phone phreaking for me ... I didn’t 
realize it then,” recalls Denny Teresi, another San Jose teenager. 

Busy signals weren’t the only type of low-tech conference call service the phone company 
inadvertently provided. Nonworking number recordings — you know, “You have reached a 
number that is disconnected or no longer in service, please check the number and dial again or 
call your operator to help you” — on certain types of telephone company switching equipment 
also could be used in the same way: everyone calling in to nonworking numbers in such an 
exchange would be connected. As with the busy signal, you had to talk over the repeating 
announcement, but the voice announcements were less annoying than the busy signals, and 
the long silence between the announcements provided more opportunity for people to talk. Best 
of all, sometimes the announcement recordings broke down and didn’t play at all. Highly 
prized, these so-called party line broken recording numbers were popular in the New York area 
in the early 1970s and remained so into the 1980s. 

It turned out there was something even better than busy signal and broken recording 
conferences, something exciting and magical: loop arounds. These were pairs of telephone 
numbers that the phone company used for testing its circuits. Loop telephone numbers varied 
from one city to another, but let’s use a pair from Los Angeles as an example: 213-286-0209 
and 213-286-0210. The idea was that a phone company technician could call one number of 
the pair, say 286-0209, from one telephone line. This number would answer automatically and 
respond with a loud tone. The technician would then call the other side of the loop, the 0210 
number, from a different telephone line. The tone on 0209 would go away and the equipment in 
the telephone company central office would connect the two lines, looping them around. The 
technician could now send a test signal down one line and hear it come back on the other line, 
allowing remote line measurements and troubleshooting. 

Admittedly, this doesn’t sound exciting and magical, but it was. Here’s why. First, you could 
talk over a loop around. If you called one side of a loop and I called the other, we were both 
connected and could talk to each other. Second, because they were telephone company test 
numbers, many loop arounds didn’t supe, that is, they didn’t return answering supervision. To 
telephone company billing equipment, calls to loop arounds looked like any other unanswered 
call. And that meant calls to such numbers were free, and they were so from anywhere in the 

Also, you could hang out on a loop around. You could call into one side of a loop and set the 
phone down on your desk and do your homework or whatever. Eventually somebody else 
would call the other side of the loop and you’d hear a r\r\g-clunk sound followed by a voice 
saying “Hello?” Pick up the phone, stop doing your homework, and bingo: instant conversation. 

Best of all, though, it was all anonymous. If we both called a loop around, you and I could 
chat and you never needed to give out your telephone number — heck, you didn’t even need to 
give out your name. If you met somebody and wanted to stay in contact, but maybe didn’t quite 
trust him entirely, you could always give them one side of a loop around. That way you could 
communicate but he wouldn’t have your actual phone number — less chance of getting you in 
trouble that way. Loop arounds served the same function as the cheese box circuits that 
bookies had been using for years, a perfect electronic meeting place for clandestine activities. 
The difference was that these cheese boxes were part of the telephone network and came 
courtesy of the telephone company. 

Rick Plath, a blind phone phreak from Los Angeles, recalls the spread of loop arounds 

among teenagers in the mid- to late 1960s. “A I Diamond hired Saul, a friend of mine,” he says. 
Diamond, a phone phreak himself, ran a business in Los Angeles selling maps to stars’ homes. 
His workers, all LA teenagers, hung out on likely street corners flagging down tourists, trading 
maps for cash. Rick had told Saul all about loop arounds. Saul quickly spread the word to the 
other map workers. “Saul was a friend of Dave. Dave got Aaron involved,” Plath continues. 
“Aaron had a way of spreading the loops all over Fairfax high school. Through word of mouth it 
went through Fairfax and then into Beverly Hills.” Before long loop arounds had taken off in LA. 
“That’s what got loops really started in the LA area. Between a bunch of us we got loops 
publicized in the LA area without knowing what we were doing,” says Plath. 

Mark Bernay ,± a Los Angeles-area telephone enthusiast and friend of Al Diamond, took the 
loop-around bug with him when graduated from college and moved to Seattle in 1967. The 
phone company certainly had loop-around telephone numbers up north, but Bernay was sad to 
find they were deserted and that nobody in Seattle knew about them. To help spread the word 
he printed up pieces of paper with loop numbers and put them on pay telephones throughout 
the area. Soon the loops in Seattle — they called them “hot lines” up thataway — were “constantly 
busy,” recalls Seattle phreak Dennis Heinz. “Mark Bernay really brought phreaking to the 
Seattle area,” he says. Loops were, in his words, the “social networking of the time,” the “Twitter 
and Facebook of the day.” 

±The pseudonym he went by at the time. 

All that, taken together, was exciting and magical. As Plath recalls, “It was like CB radio over 
the phone. It’s kind of cool that these circuits work the way they do. We didn’t care why, we just 
knew that they did.” Kind of cool. And incredibly unlikely. Consider that the phone company 
builds some obscure, mundane test feature into its network to allow technicians to do remote 
troubleshooting. Ma Bell turns her back for a second and the next thing you know a bunch of 
high school kids have remade it in to a free, anonymous communication system that the CIA 
would be proud of. It was almost as if loop arounds and broken recordings and talkable busy 
signals had been put there by the telephonic fates, a divine power that seemed to want kids to 
communicate — just not in ways that the designers of the telephone network had ever intended. 

If such fates exist, John Draper believes they have not been kind to him. Actually, that’s an 
understatement. It’s more that he believes they are out to screw him over, repeatedly and 
without lube. The fates arranged for a phone call that would change Draper’s life. The phone 
call would set events in motion that would first make him a countercultural legend and then lead 
him to prison. But the worst thing about the call, and the reason the fates were so clearly behind 
it, was this: it was a wrong number. 

A year earlier, in 1968, he was Airman First Class Draper, five-foot-eleven and 170 pounds, 
with blue eyes, thick black Gl-issue glasses, and a short military haircut. Draper was just 
finishing four years of active duty as a technician in the United States Air Force. He had grown 
up in rural towns in northern California, where he bristled under his father’s strict control and got 
beat up a lot in school. As a kid he loved electronics, so it was natural that he wound up 
maintaining radar systems on airbases in Maine and Alaska for Uncle Sam’s flyboys. 

Now it was 1969 and he was John Thomas Draper, a twenty-six-year-old civilian. He could 
wear his hair long, dress a little more casually (some would say sloppily), and smoke some pot. 
He had an honorable discharge, some Gl technical training, and was taking classes part-time at 
the local college. He had a job as an electronics technician and work was plentiful in the heart 
of what would come to be known as Silicon Valley. And it was much, much warmer in San Jose 
than it was at some stupid radar station up near the Arctic Circle. Things were looking good for 
John Draper. 

Then the phone rang. 

Draper had been expecting a call from an old friend who had just returned from Vietnam, but 
a few words into the conversation he realized that it wasn’t his buddy on the line. It was a deep- 
voiced stranger, a guy named Denny, who had reached him by mistake. Despite the wrong 
number, Draper says, they struck up a conversation. Denny was “really interesting, especially 
when he mentioned he was into radio. For me, I was always interested in all aspects of radio, 
from the DJ end to the technical end,” Draper recalls. In fact, Draper was a volunteer DJ at a 
local radio station. When he was in the air force he had built a low-power FM radio transmitter 
to entertain the bored servicemen stationed with him up in Alaska. Fie had even built a pirate 
radio station in high school. 

Back in the day radio stations used to have listening lines, telephone numbers you could call 
to hear what was being broadcast by the radio station. They were used mostly by advertising 
agencies to check that radio stations were broadcasting the ads that their clients had 
purchased, but they were also sometimes used by radio fans to listen to faraway stations. Of 
course, they were long-distance calls, so they were expensive. Denny mentioned to Draper that 
he would call and listen to radio stations all over the country. Fle’d even call up the radio DJs 
and spend time talking to them too. 

Draper commented that Denny must have a big phone bill. Nah, Denny said, I never pay for 
my phone calls. Really? Flow does that work? I know a million ways to make free phone calls, 
Denny replied. Draper wanted to know more, but Denny said he had to go. Before they hung up 
Draper got Denny’s number. 

Sometime later Draper called Denny. Or, rather, he tried to. Instead of “FHello?” he got an 
earful of tone — a loud, constant, high-pitched tone. Puzzled, he asked the operator to dial 
Denny’s number for him. Same thing. She told him that the number he was calling was a 
telephone company test number. Flad he written down the telephone number wrong? Whatever 
the reason, it looked like Draper’s freak connection to Denny was a onetime thing. 

The fates do not give up that easily, however. A few months later Draper and a friend were 
hanging out, listening to the radio, and they stumbled upon a pirate radio station. Intrigued, they 
decided to try to find the pirate broadcaster, not to complain, mind you, but to compliment him 
on his ingenuity and taste in music. They went for a spin around the neighborhood in Draper’s 
trusty green VW van, trying to locate the transmitter. The fates guided them and soon they found 
themselves chatting with the bootleg radio operator. During their conversation they discovered 
that the radio pirate just happened to know Denny. Far out! Before heading home Draper made 
sure to get Denny’s phone number from the pirate broadcaster. 

Once again, Draper gave Denny a call. No earful of tone this time, they picked up their 
conversation where it had left off. Soon they arranged to meet in person. Draper got in his van 
and drove over to Denny’s house in the suburbs of San Jose. A middle-aged man answered 
the door. Is Denny here? Sure, end of the hall and to the left. Draper walked down the hall and 
found a room with the lights out. 


“Yeah, buddy.” 

“Can I turn the lights on?” 

“Sure, buddy.” 

Turning on the lights Draper set eyes on the mysterious Denny Teresi for the first time: “a 
chubby kid that looks like a miniature cowboy and sounds like Paul Bunyan and talks eighty 
miles per hour,” Draper recalled. The sixteen-year-old didn’t have much use for lights. Denny 
was blind. 

The two continued their discussion from months back. What was up with that weird tone I got 
when I tried calling you? Oh, said Teresi, that was a loop around. Teresi explained how loop 

arounds worked, how you could call one side of a loop and somebody else could call the other 
side and the two of you could talk without ever having to know each other’s telephone numbers. 
But one side often had a tone on it, and that was what Draper had heard. 

Teresi had a wealth of seemingly incredible knowledge about the telephone system — how 
you could have conference calls by talking over broken busy signals and recordings, how you 
could use an electronic organ to make free phone calls, heck, how you could even just whistle 
free calls! Draper says he found it all unbelievable. It couldn’t be that easy. It just couldn’t. 

But it was, Teresi told him. To prove it, they drove over to Teresi’s friend Jimmy’s house. Jim 
Fettgather, also sixteen and also blind, was a talented musician who had a Farfisa electronic 
organ, the same type of organ that the Doors used on “Light My Fire” two years earlier. 
Fettgather was a virtuoso when it came to using his Farfisa to play those special notes that so 
charmed Mother Bell. 

Wires spilled out the back of Fettgather’s electronic organ and, through a pair of alligator 
clips, connected to the telephone line. Fettgather picked up the phone and dialed an 800 
number. Just as it started ringing he whistled it off. Kerchink! He turned to his organ and, as 
Draper put it, “hammered out a call”: two keys at a time, twelve times in a row. Jangly pairs of 
tones — not quite music — filled the room. Seconds later Draper heard the ringing signal of the 
rerouted call going through: an expensive long-distance call made free, thanks to a pair of blind 
kids with an electronic organ. 

Draper was blown away. “He was really fast,” Draper recalls of Fettgather’s dialing. “I was 
just so flabbergasted that it was so simple. The whole network was controlled by tones! The 
whole long-distance network.” 

Teresi and Fettgather wanted to know if Draper could build them a multifrequency generator 
— an MFer, a blue box, a portable electronic gadget that would produce the same pairs of tones 
they were making with Fettgather’s electronic organ. Draper said he could. 

He returned home in a state of shock. “I had to build a blue box,” Draper recalls. And that 
night he did. It was a crude first effort that was difficult to use. It had seven switches: one for 
2,600 Hz and six to generate the tones that made up multifrequency digits. Just like Fettgather’s 
electronic organ, you had to press two of the six buttons simultaneously to generate the right 
pairs of tones; it required practice to get the hang of it. But it worked. And Draper already had 
ideas for building more sophisticated boxes. 

Teresi, Fettgather, and some of their friends were in the habit of taking “whistle trips” — trips to 
places with pay phones where they could explore the network just by whistling. Just as Acker 
had discovered, not all trunk lines were created equal: some were vulnerable to whistling, 
some weren’t. San Francisco International Airport, thirty-five miles north of San Jose, happened 
to be wide open, and there was always somebody willing to give the kids a ride up to the airport 
in exchange for a few free long-distance calls. Several years earlier a Los Angeles phone 
phreak named Sid Bernay§ had discovered you could generate a nice, clean 2,600 Hz tone 
simply by covering one of the holes in the plastic toy bosun whistle that was given away as a 
prize in boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal. Armed with their Cap’n Crunch whistles Fettgather and 
Teresi and friends would cluster around pay phones at the airport and go nuts. “We used to 
have a ball going up to San Francisco,” Fettgather remembers. “I imagine we must have gotten 
quite a few looks ... six or eight of us at these pay phones, whistling into these telephones, 
dialing long-distance numbers.” 

fjThe pseudonym he went by at the time. As a pseudonym, the surname “Bemay” among phone phreaks indicated 
membership in the Mark Bemay Society — an inside joke stemming from a prank phone call placed in Los Angeles during 
the late 1960s. 

With Draper in the club the whistle trips expanded. The original trips were just to find and use 
whistleable pay phones, but the whistle trips soon morphed into what they came to call “phone 

trips” — the idea of going to some oddball location simply for the joy of playing with whatever 
telephone system they had there. Where could you call from there? What did the calls sound 
like? What techniques could you use to make free calls? What if you did this? Or this? Let’s try 
it! It wasn’t just Draper, Fettgather, and Teresi; other phone phreaks in other areas of the 
country made similar excursions. Mark Bernay in Seattle, for example, made a special trip to 
the northernmost town in Washington, right near the Canadian border, just to see how its 
telephones worked. 

By late 1969 a network of phone phreaks had begun to develop. Like snowflakes forming out 
of moisture in cold winter air, it took just the right set of conditions for it to happen. Instead of 
humidity and temperature it was the presence of loop arounds and broken recordings and 
talkable busy signals — and, of course, people to talk on them. And, like snowflakes magically 
appearing, it was more accidental than planned. 

Fettgather had been talking to other kids on talkable busy signals in San Jose since about 
1964. He learned about loop arounds in 1968 when he was at Camp Bloomfield, a summer 
camp for blind kids down in southern California. Because many of the loop arounds didn’t supe 
— that is, they were free calls — Fettgather says they “put all of us in San Jose in communication 
with folks all around the country.” It wasn’t long before Bill Acker in New York ran into 
Fettgather on the phone. Fettgather introduced Acker to Teresi. Teresi introduced Acker to 
Draper. The network expanded from there via word of mouth and chance telephonic 
encounters. The first time Bill Acker called a loop around and got another phreak on the other 
end of the loop, he recalls thinking it was the “coolest thing in the whole wide world!” You can 
still hear the amazement in his voice. “I was willing to work in isolation but to think that there 
were people out there that I could talkto . . Acker’s mind boggled. 

This was important, maybe more important than we might remember. Thanks to the Internet 
and the Web and Google, everything and everyone seems to be just a few mouse clicks away. 
Interested in something obscure, for instance, using hypodermic needles to water your Venus 
flytrap? Want to collect air raid sirens? Care to meet men and women who wear furry animal 
costumes and chase one another around hotel lobbies at science fiction conventions? Give ’em 
a Google, though perhaps you shouldn’t Google that last one from your place of work. In every 
case you’ll find there are websites and groups devoted to the topic. The Internet seems to be 
telling us: You Are Not Alone — no matter who you are or how rare your interests. 

But in 1969, until he discovered loop arounds and talkable busy signals, Acker felt like he 
was Very Much Alone. Sure, he had friends at school who helped him out with his telephone 
hobby, but none of them were into the nitty-gritty like he was. “They were all happy to make free 
phone calls,” Acker recalls. “I don’t say that disparagingly. They just weren’t into the guts of it.” It 
wasn’t just his schoolmates who liked free calls, by the way. For a time Acker’s house mother at 
school was a woman from South America and “every night for about four or five months she got 
to call home,” Acker says, the joy audible in his voice. 

“My brother was totally into different things,” Acker says. “I couldn’t tell him what I discovered, 
he wouldn’t have gotten it.” In fact, “He was older than I was, so the less he knew about the 
legally edgy aspects of it, the better.” 

Until he learned about the other phreaks, Acker recalls, as far as he was concerned, “I was 
pretty much the only one, and I was pretty much operating in isolation.” 

Loop arounds and talkable busy signals were unintentional — happy accidents that made for 
oases in the network. But other telephonic watering holes were planned. 

Imagine for a second that you’re a hardworking, businesslike caveman and you’ve just 
invented the pencil. Your cavemate asks you, What’s it good for? You straighten up slightly, 
adjust the collar of your starched saber-toothed-tiger-skin shirt, and say, “Well, my goodness, 

this invention will propel us into the zeroth century! It will allow sharp-eyed cave dwellers — 
we’ll call them accountants — to keep track of how many rocks and sticks we owe each other. 
With it, we will be able to record instructions for future generations regarding optimal hunting 
and gathering strategies. It will revolutionize the business of being a cave person!” 

Your cavemate raises a skeptical eyebrow. And then picks up your pencil and begins 
sketching a beautiful drawing on the cave wall. You look on, dumbfounded, as you realize that 
the highest technology in the world at that moment — the pencil — has just been used to make 

A telephonic version of this scene played out in Los Angeles in the 1960s. It went by funny 
names: “The Machine.” “VERMONT.” “Z, ZZ, ZZZ.” “Superphone.” All were telephone numbers 
you could call to hear tape-recorded audio performances. Most were comedy skits, some were 
horoscope readings, others were political commentary and humor. They were known as “joke 
lines” or “dial-a-joke” numbers. Most were run by high school or college kids. Once again, 
someone had taken the day’s high technology — the telephone — and used it to make art. 

In today’s world it is tempting to dismiss telephone joke lines as quaint, even laughable. But 
think about it for a second. How many of the sites you visit during a day’s surfing online are the 
figurative descendants of these telephone joke lines? The funny website or YouTube link that 
your friend emailed you today may have video or animation, it may be a lot flashier, it’s 
probably more professionally produced, but basically it’s the same idea as a telephone joke 
line: people sat down, came up with something they thought was funny, recorded it in some 
way, and put it out there for you to enjoy. Today you point and click, yesterday you dialed. 
Same deal. The impulse is as old as cave drawings. 

Practically, though, there’s a big difference between 1969 and now. Today you can go to 
Facebook or TypePad or Twitter and have a presence on the Web in five minutes. Video 
cameras are cheap and YouTube is free. But setting up a joke line in 1969 was another matter 
entirely. Until just one year earlier you weren’t allowed to connect any non-Bell System 
electrical equipment to your telephone line — by any means. Ma Bell insisted that this had 
nothing to do with maintaining AT&T’s telephone monopoly. Rather, she said, it was to 
maintain the integrity of the nation’s telephone network, which AT&T built and that only AT&T 
understood. As the president of AT&T said in 1973, “The national switched telephone network 
is an interdependent, sensitive, highly sophisticated system. To work well, the system depends 
on technically compatible components. The phone network is not made of cans and string. It 
consists of intricate electrical switches and terminals, precisely configured, rigorously tested, 
and built to exact specifications. If consumers can plug anything they want into the network — 
any old piece of junk made who knows where — the system will break down. A faulty telephone 
in one house could conceivably disrupt service to an entire city. A system such as the switched 
telephone network is only as good as its weakest component.” 

This logic extended not just to telephone lines but to telephones themselves. Consider the 
case of the Hush-A-Phone. This was a product first manufactured in the 1 920s by, you guessed 
it, the Hush-A-Phone Corporation. It was not a sophisticated electrical circuit that connected up 
to Ma Bell’s fragile network. No, it was a molded rubber cup that fit over the telephone 
mouthpiece. It allowed you to whisper into your phone and thus gain a little bit of privacy from 
your house or office mates; you can think of it as the rubber widget equivalent of cupping your 
hand between your mouth and the telephone to keep others from hearing you. 

AT&T didn’t like it; tariffs were passed that made it a violation to use a telephone with “any 
device not furnished by the phone company.” AT&T threatened to disconnect the telephone 
service of both vendors and users of the Hush-A-Phone for violating these rules. Hush-A- 
Phone Corporation complained to the Federal Communications Commission in 1948. In 1951 

the FCC decided in favor of the telephone company. Hush-A-Phone objected; briefs were filed. 
The FCC took the matter “under advisement” for four more years. In late 1955 the 
communications commission officially sided with AT&T, saying that this sinister rubber widget 
was “deleterious to the telephone system and injures the service rendered by it” because its 
use sometimes “results in a loss of voice intelligibility, and also has an adverse affect on voice 
recognition and naturalness.” Flush-A-Phone filed suit in federal court — and won. The D.C. 
court of appeals decided in 1 956 that the tariff-imposed ban was “unwarranted interference with 
the telephone subscriber’s right reasonably to use his telephone in ways which are privately 
beneficial without being publicly detrimental.” 

Eight years, a protracted FCC hearing, and a lawsuit to get the right to use a rubber cup on a 
telephone mouthpiece. 

The beautiful thing about teenagers is that they rarely pay attention to this kind of stuff. And 
thus was born the Machine, one of the earliest telephone joke lines. It was the brainchild of two 
Toms in San Pedro, California: Tom Plimmer and Tom Politeo; born exactly one week apart, 
they were known as Tom 0 and Tom 1 by their friends. While the Machine may have been their 
creation, it looked more like something that Rube Goldberg would have designed. It consisted 
of an open-reel tape recorder and some custom electronics to turn it into an answering 
machine, with four thirty-second skits that callers could hear. Each caller would get the next skit 
in sequence until it repeated. Because it had to repeat, the two Toms couldn’t use a standard 
cassette system. Reel-to-real audiotape ran at seven inches per second, so two minutes of 
audio translated into seventy feet of audiotape. This audiotape was festooned around Politeo’s 
bedroom, fed through dozens of circular metal binder clips. When the Machine was playing an 
announcement, it was as if Politeo’s bedroom had come alive, a whirling, reeling mass of 
moving audiotape. 

The Machine launched on Tom 1’s seventeenth birthday in September 1969. “Eight three 
three triple three nine” was the number. “A large part of what we were trying to do was to 
breathe more life into the phone system,” says Politeo. The two Toms succeeded beyond their 
wildest expectations. Before long the Machine was receiving two thousand calls per day, an 
average of one call every forty-five seconds. A supervisor who worked in their local telephone 
company central office described to them the havoc the Machine’s popularity was causing with 
the office’s step-by-step switching equipment. Your local connector group has eight switches, 
he explained. Of these, one of them seems like it’s permanently connected to your line. The 
other seven, he said, are permanently trying to connect to your line. 

Of course, you don’t build something like the Machine without knowing a little bit about the 
telephone system itself. Rick Plath, one of Acker’s friends in LA, knew the two Toms through 
the Machine. Sensing kindred spirits, Plath told Plimmer he should call Bill in New York. 

A few days later Acker’s telephone rang. When he picked it up he heard a familiar sound: a 
long-distance call with unnatural routing. “Hi, this is Tom in San Pedro,” the caller said. 
“Vancouverish,” he added. Vancouverish? Between that odd word and the distinctive sound of 
the long-distance trunk, Acker knew instantly what was going on: Tom was calling him from 
San Pedro via Vancouver, just like Acker had learned to do himself from Farmingdale by 
routing his long-distance calls through Halifax. 

“Tom Plimmer was one of my first constant connections,” Acker recalls. “We would talk for 

The network continued to grow. Before long Acker and the other phreaks were regularly 
talking to some twenty or so people. Some were in Long Island, New York, like Acker, but more 
were in California. “California was the epicenter,” Acker says. It was, he felt, the “capital of 
phreakdom.” Acker’s lack of a Long Island accent is testimony to California’s influence. “It was 

at that time in my life where I decided I’d rather sound like the California phone phreaks,” he 
says. “I needed to ditch my New York accent.” 

It was late January 1970 before they called the Old Man. They had all heard of Joe 
Engressia, of course, the blind whistling phone phreak mentioned in the newspapers a year 
earlier. But nobody had actually talked to him. Finally Bob Sirmons, a phone phreak in Los 
Angeles, took it upon himself to track down Engressia. It wasn’t hard. Sirmons called Acker 
after reaching Engressia at his dorm in Tampa: I found him! He wants to talk to us! Here’s his 

Acker dialed Engressia’s number. Acker’s ears were well trained and he could tell one bit of 
telephone company switching equipment from another just by sound. As he listened to the 
clicks and clunks the network made during the ten or so seconds it spent getting his call from 
Long Island to Tampa, he heard something unusual. Acker knew that Engressia lived in an 
area whose phone service was provided by General Telephone, an independent telephone 
company. But the sound the network made right before Engressia’s phone started to ring was 
that of a #5 crossbar telephone switch, a piece of Bell System equipment. In other words, it was 
a piece of equipment that had no business being down in General Telephone territory. 

Engressia answered the phone. “Hey, where did General Telephone get a number five 
crossbar?” Acker asked him. Not just anyone would know that such a thing was unusual; 
indeed, most wouldn’t have the ears to have noticed it at all. With a telephonic smile, Engressia 
explained that the #5 crossbar had come from Northern Electric — it was equipment from the 
Bell System out of snowy Canada, now enjoying its quasi-retirement in sunny Florida. 

“It was clear we kind of liked the same things,” Acker recalls. It was an understatement. That 
phone call was the first of thousands of hours he and Engressia would spend together on the 

Many of these hours, at least in 1970, would be spent on a conference call that the phreaks 
called “2111.” When they reached the 2111 conference they’d hear a distinctive, high-pitched 
hum. It wasn’t so loud that you couldn’t talk over it, but it was loud enough that you couldn’t 
miss it. When they heard that hum, they knew just where they were in the network. As Bill Acker 
described it later, “The hum told us that we were home.” 

The hum came from an obscure little circuit called a TWX converter that lived deep in the 
bowels of a step-tandem switching machine in British Columbia. TWX stood for “teletypewriter 
exchange”; in the days before faxes and email, teletype machines were used by big companies 
and organizations to quickly communicate via the printed word over long distances. Clunky and 
electromechanical, teletypes sent data over the telephone line at then blazing speeds — 
typically forty-five words per minute — clacking away, each letter mechanically printed one at a 
time in ink on paper. In essence, they were big, remotely controlled electric typewriters, built by 
the Teletype Corporation, part of the AT&T empire. 

The TWX converter was normally used for allowing different types of teletype machines to 
talk to one another. But somebody had left it slightly misconfigured, or maybe it had fallen into 
disrepair. Either way, it’s kind of like that little door to the crawl space under your house: forget 
to button it up tight and you’ll wind up with rodents living in your basement. Leave your TWX 
converter misconfigured and it’ll get infested with phone phreaks. 

The rodents like your basement because it’s warm and dry. The phone phreaks liked the 
TWX converter because its misconfiguration turned it into a giant conference call, something 
rarer than diamonds in 1 970. Its discovery was a mix of intention and accident, a happy offshoot 
from the phone phreaks’ attempts to plumb the mysteries of the Vancouver step tandem by 
exhaustively dialing codes within it. One of the codes they discovered was 21: you’d call a 
number in the 604 area code, whistle off with 2,600 Hz, and then whistle 21 followed by any 

two digits; 21 1 1 was popular because it was easy to whistle: bleep bleep . . . bleep . . . bleep . . 
. bleep and you’re done. You’d be rewarded with an unusual dial tone, a constant tone that 
sounded like a continuous fourth octave B musical note. From this you could keep whistling 
digits to place a free call to anywhere you wanted. 

The network of phreaks — Acker, Engressia, Draper, Teresi, Bernay, Fettgather, and the rest 
— had been using 2111 to make free phone calls via the Vancouver step tandem since the start 
of 1970. But something changed sometime around May of that year. The fourth octave B dial 
tone went away, leaving only the high-pitched hum. No more dial tone meant no more free 
calls. The phone phreaks were sad. 

Then someone noticed something odd. If multiple people called 2111 at the same time they 
all got connected, forming one big conference call. In today’s world of three-way calling and 
business and personal conference dial-in numbers, it’s hard to remember just what an unusual 
animal an actual conference call circuit was back in 1970. Back then, about the only people 
who could afford conference calls were big businesses and the government. If you were a 
businessperson who wanted to have a conference call, you rang up a special operator and had 
her manually connect you to all the people you wanted on your call. You then paid AT&T’s 
highest rate for each person you were calling, the so-called operator assisted rate, per person, 
per minute. If you were a phone phreak, you had loops and talkable busy signals and broken 
recordings, but loops supported only two people at once, and the others were annoying to use, 
what with busy signals and recordings interrupting your chatter. 

In contrast, 2111 easily supported a dozen or more people; in fact, there seemed to be no 
limit to the number of people who could be conferenced together on it. Plus, 21 1 1 had a built-in 
riffraff catcher, something to keep out the 1970s version of what hackers today would call script 
kiddies, that is, people who weren’t serious about the hobby. This was because you couldn’t 
merely call in to 21 1 1 via a simple telephone call. You needed a whistle or an electronic tone 
generator to send the pulses of 2,600 Hz that the Vancouver step tandem wanted to hear before 
it would connect you to the conference. 

By the late summer of 1970 the 21 1 1 conference had become the electronic meeting place 
for a burgeoning collection of phone phreaks, their virtual home in one of the first virtual places 
— the long-distance telephone network. Together the 2111 gang formed an unlikely group, 
made all the more unlikely by a couple of things. The first was that these weren’t the only phone 
phreaks, just the hard-core nucleus of a larger, wider, more casual network, one that stretched 
across the country. Who would ever have thought that in 1970 the obscure technical hobby of 
hacking telephones — an illegal one with no publicity to speak of — could possibly bring together 
dozens of like-minded young people throughout the United States? 

The second thing was that more than half of the core group — Engressia, Acker, Teresi, and 
Fettgather — were blind. Theories abounded as to why this was so. To be sure, blind people 
spent a lot of time on the telephone, perhaps more than sighted people. Since there were 
relatively fewer blind people in the United States, their friendships tended to be more spread 
out. Thus suffering from higher-than-average phone bills, perhaps they were keener than most 
for ways to save money on telephone calls. Then too there was the “blind people have better 
hearing to compensate for their blindness” theory that suggested the sightless kids were better 
able to appreciate the subtle variations in tone, noise, and timbre of the long-distance 
telephone network, although there would turn out to be several sighted people with an equally 
acute appreciation of the sonic qualities of the telephone network. Finally, the telephone 
probably served as a great equalizer. On the telephone, after all, everyone is blind. 

Regardless, the upshot was that if you were putting together a cast of characters for a hacker 
movie, you’d have a hard time doing better than the original 2111 gang. They began calling 

themselves phone freaks — back in those days, they spelled it with an “f” — and even went so far 
as to create an informal organization called the PFA: the Phone Freaks of America. Joe 
Engressia quickly found himself elected president and recalls his inaugural speech: “I said, 
‘Well, my pledge to you as president is that any knowledge I have I’ll share with you and do my 
best to help people learn about phones, because knowledge shared is knowledge expanded, 
and that’s enough of a presidential speech.’ We were on a conference call and people clapped, 
probably because the speech wasn’t so long that they would get bored.” 

It was a golden era, and it was the community that made it so. “The 21 1 1 conference was just 
a blast,” says Seattle phone phreak Bob Gudgel. “It was a huge part of my life. I met a lot of 
great people on it. I have really, really good memories of those days.” One of the keys was that 
it was big enough to be fun but not so large that people had to be overly paranoid. Of course, 
this didn’t stop some people from trying. Bill Acker recalls getting a phone call one day from a 
mysterious person who identified himself only as a representative of the International Society of 
Telephone Enthusiasts, or ISTE. Acker remembers this person’s opening words: “We are 
concerned.” Specifically, his mystery caller was concerned that Acker was talking to too many 
people and doing too many things and was somehow going to mess the whole hobby up for 
everybody. Acker later asked Joe Engressia if he knew anything about this. “Oh, that’s just B. 
David,” said Engressia. Engressia explained that he was an old phone phreak who seemed to 
love paranoia and spy stuff. Don’t worry about him, said Engressia. Acker and Engressia went 
back to their conference calls. 

It was on one of those conference calls that John Draper discovered a new identity for 
himself. For reasons of anonymity — and, honestly, just for the fun of it — it was common for 
phone phreaks to go by nicknames or handles. Bill Acker was “Bill from New York,” Jim 
Fettgather was “Mr. Westin,” the members of the Mark Bernay Society all had their Bernay 
handles — Al Bernay, Bob Bernay, Mark Bernay, Sid Bernay, etc. One day Draper and 
Engressia were talking about using a Cap’n Crunch whistle to make their beloved 2,600 Hz 
tone, Engressia recalls, when Draper suddenly said, “You know, I think I’ll just call myself 
Captain Crunch. That’d be a good name.” Engressia immediately liked it. “It just fit him 
somehow,” he remembers. “It was just a good name for him. We called him ‘Captain’ a lot.” 

Captain Crunch was born. 

Photo Insert 

A Chappe optical telegraph station at Louvre, Paris. Image courtesy Wikipedia 

Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the electric telegraph, circa 1860. Photo courtesy Library of Congress 

A telegraph key and sounder, circa 1 890. The electrical telegraph made the optical telegraph obsolete, sending messages 
across wires in an instant. Photo courtesy Douglas Palmer 

Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, circa 1920. Photo courtesy Harris & Ewing , Library of Congress 

A re-creation of Bell’s original telephone. Photo courtesy Detroit Publishing Co., Library of Congress 

The original Strowger switch from Automatic Electric Company, 1890. Photo courtesy AT&T Archives and History Center 

Long-distance operators at “cord boards” circa 1 945. Well until mid-century the operators’ hands, arms, and brains were the 
workhorses of long-distance telephone switching. Photo courtesy National Archives 

The inner workings of a bank of Strowger switches showing the ratchets and pawls and assorted mechanical clockwork 
required to automate telephone switching in the early 1 900s. 

Photo courtesy TurelioA/Vikimedia Commons 

A portion of the magnificent 4A toll crossbar switch, 1 957. The brains of the long-distance network, the 4A would enable truly 
automated long-distance telephone calls that customers could dial themselves. Photo courtesy AT&T Archives and History 

inlaying a tune for a telephone number 

Bell SfMnn lone distance circuits, your 
operator presses keys like those shown 
shove, one for each digit in the number 
of the telephone you are calling. Each 
key sends out a pan of tones, literally 

It is as if the operator reached across the 
country and dialed the number for you. 

vclopnsenta of Bell Telephone Labora- 
tories, is already in use on hundreds of 
long distance lines radiating from 
Chicago, Cleveland. New York. Oakland 
and Philadelphia, and between a nuim 

It will be extended steadily in other 
parts of the country— a growing example 
of tile way Bell Telephone I-sWalories 

better, faster telephone service. 


A 1 950 magazine ad describing the multifrequency signaling system; the ad even went so far as to give the musical 
equivalents of the MF digits. 





JmM h r 

mur ' 





49 * 


A Woolworth’s ad for the Davy Crockett Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute, circa 1 955, and the genuine article itself — the toy 
that would be the basis for David Condon’s whistled exploration of the telephone network. Photos courtesy 

Charlie Pyne (seated), Tony Lauck (standing), and Paul Heckel (on the phone) as featured in Fortune magazine, 1 966. 
Photo courtesy Fortune 


I. Name of Student ft—eU PlFB£ CUn 1966 

2. 1$ his academic record so far about right ft* low expectation^abovc expectation? (Circle one) 


Probable concenirnionSuglnterlng Sci«nc®t)o you consider this a wise choice? 
If not. what field would you recommend? - 

I'n inclined to think 
»o now. 

4. Comments on him at student and as citiiemPyne has bean an enlgyia to me all year. I're spent 
nore time with hia trying to understand hie problems, than the combined tine I't® 
devoted to all ny other fresh can advisees. In an attempt to arouse his motivation, 
I've used ay entire bag of tricks to llttlo avail. Then suddenly two weeks ago all 
wa9 trade clear when we learned frees the FBI and Telephone Company of hia tampering 
with the whole telephone system. Instead of studying, night after night all year long 
he three other Harvard students with the cooperation of an K.I.T. student have 
been discovering ways to beat the Telephone Company and how the tdtole system works. 

Ho wonder hie studies have suffered. Tron what I now know he hae been pursuing this 
interest for years. If he once settles down and really applies himself. there'B no 
question in ay mind that he can do the work. In fact, he possesses a vast knowledge 
of slectronlcs in general and the telephone operation in particular. Surely this 
should stand him in good atead. ~ 

5. Any non-academic activities in which you expect him to vrTke a significant contribution? U/ H '( ■ Jj. 

Date — A* Signature a flkvr/3. OJU. 

Pyne’s Freshman Adviser Report at Harvard University, 1963. Image courtesy Charlie Pyne 

Joe Engressia, 1968. Photo courtesy AP Images 

Bill Acker, 1973. Photo courtesy Bob Gudgel 

Bob Gudgel, Jay Dee Pritchard, and John “Captain Crunch” Draper on a phone trip in Duvall, Washington, 1971. Photo 
courtesy Bob Gudgel 

A Cap’n Crunch Bo’sun Whistle. Photo courtesy Richard Kashdan 

r in 




The Fine Arts 13 classified ad from the Harvard Crimson, 1967. 



•7o ot TIPI, would 
li!:o to offer 
thonl-.u to- 
nll you phroo.Ho 

Host of you who i . 

* "■» in Washington e 

out thero. 

receiving this net uc in Washington on Payday, 
where we distributed 10,000 prono flyers. So far 
, ?» Ve .f° c * ivod ovor 50 responses, con ole te with 
ontrlbutlons, encouragement, and • •• 










contributions, encouragement, and spirit’. We cay 
that t'?IL don ® f? 11 P«reentage-wiae, but tho fact 

“ ro people all ovor the country rilling 
to fight bac* speaks for itself, no are sure that from 
s&rSSlt °L th * rotlpon3 ®’ Y1PL r ecbe rshlp rill really 
more loportant than our nunbers, 
rnSvenlnt 1 ^ 1 Th2'aJ° tk ® . foolin K “••' d motivation for this 
h u™' S^WOintosnt «e feel toward Anorlka has 
to^Iwrov-^J «»° ™ »«» th ® of the movement 

to improve it, and to frustation as our outside efforts 
and forbiddon - But we did flai lum our 
,“° VeCCnt for ch “««* YYp L believes that 
education alone cannot affect tho System, but education 

sSScifi^l1v V “TVm 1 L, l ? Ol K f0r th0 °® * ilUn * »<> It- 
Speci fical ly, TIPL will show you why something must be 
done immediately in regard, of course, to the improper 
control of the communication in this country by none 

®° 1 £j[° ur friends want to get in on the fun, let them 
ed” ?y® 3tl ® no fn*your , l“oi y iibri^‘ ^d^elp'lo'staJt'the 
war againot 0 tho 0 poor?°the i no n -whi t# . * ln th * 






representatives of your area how the Beli'”s^Ua S and r the d %^erlkan 

YfpL* r ?ha?^ fr , co^ eft r Plrai<0r !- If y9ur fri « nda 

If thiy^M'rend a WI 1 " conv ® nl#n t for our snail staff, and is right on 
neod Gtanna" ‘.i* 3 * donation nnd read your newsletter. We also 

£ffice l 2t P ^J l . U S ’ Wld 0nv « lo P« o . "hieh Hnybe they can get fron their 

ir ss! t ra!rali^HS' S5 

refusing to nay, and the Phone Company's hLaellng ft. 

3“” a «s* l 5s assi a.*sj. d s{.. 

ITS* ” k, “’ 

Hew York -021 Chicago-097 J,E 6«n 9 .« 

Example- 769 -I 960 -O 6 A (I.B.H. .Aaant.K.Y.) 

Front page of the first issue of the Youth International Party Line. 

Photo courtesy Bob Gudgel 

Assorted blue boxes, 1961 through the late 1970s. Photos courtesy Ed Turnley or author unless otherwise indicated 

PB 1 


I ' 

“ *"" v — — "M 

Hu ^ 






V ' 


; j m 

Bernard Cornfeld and friends, 1 974. The millionaire financier would eventually be convicted of Fraud by Wire for using one 

of Wozniak’s blue boxes. Photo courtesy AP Images 



B-3 5363 



10 6 72 

Chic Eder, the one-man crime wave and FBI informant who provided the feds with a tape recording of John Draper 
wiretapping their San Francisco office. Photo courtesy FBI 

A 1 6-button AUTOVON telephone, whose red-colored fourth column of precedence buttons made the military telephone 
network a sensitive and seemingly irresistible target for certain phone phreaks. Photo courtesy Wayne Merit, JKL Museum of 

Security Agent Earl Conners and AT&T Attorney Bill Caming testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives after 
of the Greenstartoll fraud surveillance system broke, February, 1975. Photo courtesy George Tames/The New York 

Ken Hopper and Walter Heinze in the Telephone Crime Lab. Photo courtesy Ken Hopper 

Stealing a 
phone cal! 
i isn’t a 


Bell of Pennsylvania is sick and tired of being dicked 
by students who ore always trying to beat the system. 
Well .... we re pissed now. and there’s no stopping us! 
The next CMU student we catch steoling a phone call will 
be electrocuted! That’s right. Were installing new 
security jacks into the Centrex system. Thot means that 
when we find a student up-to-no-good with we 
just have to push a button, and boom! ! ! He gets it right 
in the ear! 

So you see. stealing a phone call isn’t a game, it's 
toking your life into your own hands. BOOM! ! ! ! 

(2) Bell of Pennsylvania 

As this joke ad illustrates, the security department at Bell of Pennsylvania apparently had a sense of humor about the phone 
phreaks at Carnegie Mellon University. Image courtesy Ken Hopper 

Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, New Jersey, 1 960s. Photo courtesy AT&T Archives and History Center 

Replica of the first transistor, invented at Bell Labs in 1 947. Photo courtesy AT&T Archives and History Center 

If you’re still using 
Bell for long distance calls 
after reading this, 
you must be one of their 
major stockholders. 

MCI magazine ad, 1 980, showing their long-distance rates to be about Vfe of AT&T’s. 



li’SA funny thing, isn’t it, how you never can tell where things are going to go. You set out to do 
some thing, some simple, straightforward thing. Let’s say you even succeed at it. But because 
of some niggling detail you didn’t think of, some connection you didn’t quite anticipate, a freak 
chance that you didn’t factor in, in the bigger picture things go totally off the rails. 

It’s called the Law of Unintended Consequences and it has sharp, pointy teeth. 

It happened in the 1930s when Bell Labs was busy inventing the multifrequency signaling 
system. There they were, telephone company scientists and engineers just trying to figure out a 
way to put through long-distance calls quickly and efficiently and automatically. But they 
overlooked the fact that there were clever people out there and that their system was wide open 
to anyone who could generate a pair of tones. You can forgive them for this. Who knew from 
hackers in the 1930s or ’40s? But the next thing you know, it’s the 1960s and — bleeeeep 
kerchink — your network has blind kids and mobsters and college students making free phone 
calls with blue boxes. 

It happened again in October 1970 when the phone company busted a guy in San Francisco 
for selling blue boxes. Al Gilbertson^ had learned about blue boxes in the late ’60s while he 
was a grad student at a prestigious East Coast engineering school. “I had heard a rumor about 
a blue box, that phone company people had these things,” he says. “And apparently some 
bookies used them, this is what I understood. I heard a whiff of this. The next thing I heard was 
in the newspaper: a guy named Joe Engressia, a blind kid down in Florida, got busted for 
whistling 2,600 cycles per second down the phone line. Well, with those two pieces of 
information I went to the engineering library and looked it up in the Bell System Technical 
Journal and there were the goddamn codes.” Gilbertson shakes his head in disbelief as he 
recalls his discovery. 

JThe pseudonym he went by at the time. 

About three days later he had built his first blue box. “It was amazing how much fun you could 
have with it,” he says. Despite this distraction, Gilbertson somehow managed to complete his 
dissertation and finish graduate school. PhD in hand, he moved out to San Francisco. After a 
brief career as a physics postdoc, he decided to try something more entrepreneurial. Maybe 
he’d start a company, he thought. Maybe he’d make a product, perhaps an electronics product. 
Say, blue boxes. 

“That\Nas a mistake,” he recalls with a laugh. “I wasn’t a real sophisticated business guy at 
the time and I didn’t understand the law.” The venture ended predictably. “I got arrested by the 
phone company.”^ 

“Of course, the telephone company did not have power of arrest, but getting “busted" or “arrested” by the phone company 
was a common phrase among phone phreaks in those days. It speaks to the telephone company’s immense size and 
perceived power. Today nobody would say they “got arrested by Google,” for example, but being arrested by the phone 
company made sense back then. 

From the phone company’s perspective, it was about as straightforward as it gets. Some guy 
is using and making and, worst of all, selling blue boxes. Bust him. Check. What’s next? Is it 
lunchtime yet? But it’s on occasions such as this — the execution of simple, straightforward 
projects — that the Law of Unintended Consequences likes to kick in. It played out in slow 
motion over the next few months and it had two triggers. 

First there were the phone calls from the phone phreaks. For obvious reasons, news of a 
blue box bust was of great interest to the phreaks. Even though they didn’t know Gilbertson, 
several of the phreaks, including Bill Acker, took it upon themselves to look him up in the phone 
book and whistle up a call to him. Their motivations were mixed. Partially it was to reach out to 
someone who might be a fellow telephone aficionado and get the details of what happened. As 
Acker puts it, “If the phone company’s mad at him, he must be somebody we want to know!” 

But their call was also to chide Gilbertson for selling blue boxes, something that the phone 
phreaks frowned upon almost as much as the phone company. By this time the phreaks had 
developed a sort of informal code of conduct. It was not universally agreed upon or followed 
within the phreaking community but, as Tom Politeo remembers it, it had three basic parts. First, 
don’t seek publicity — the more people who know about phone phreaking, the more likely it was 
that the phone company would clamp down on it. Second, don’t call during peak hours — this 

was to avoid busying out circuits, inconveniencing people, and drawing unwanted attention. 
And third, don’t profit from phreaking. Anyone selling blue boxes was obviously violating this 
third commandment, and their customers would probably end up causing other problems too. “It 
sounds funny to say it about something that was already an illegal hobby,” Acker says, “but 
those people gave phreaking a bad name.” 

Gilbertson was a bit older than the mostly teenage phreaks and his motivations were 
somewhat different. Acker remembers, “He didn’t seem to love the phone the way we did.” 
Regardless, the phone calls introduced Gilbertson to the cross-country network of phone 
phreaks and their reindeer games. “They were young and foolish and so was I,” Gilbertson 
says. “We had tons of fun.” 

The second trigger to the Law of Unintended Consequences was Gilbertson’s pride. He 
wasn’t about to take his bust sitting down. Although he denies revenge was a motivation, he 
says that “I thought it made a great story, and I was interested in not just being snuffed out by 
the phone company.” Moreover, his inner engineer was offended that the phone company had 
designed such a vulnerable system and then got huffy when people took advantage of it. “It was 
that they were so sloppyl What the Christ did they think, that there’s not any bad guys in this 

Gilbertson complained to his attorney about this. “Well, I know these guys at Esquire 
magazine,” Gilbertson recalls his attorney saying. “And I said, ‘Well, call ’em up!”’ 

The phone company didn’t know it yet, but that was the moment when things started to go off 
the rails. 

Ron Rosenbaum read the story memo from an editor at Esquire. Some guy out in California 
had been busted for manufacturing something called a blue box, some sort of telephone fraud 
device. More interesting was the community it described — a “world of electronics whizzes, 
teenage blind kids, a whole network of people,” Rosenbaum recalls. “You know, it sounded 
completely fascinating. These people had managed to create a sort of network, a parallel 
communications network, of their own.” 

Rosenbaum was just twenty-four, a few years out of Yale and in the early days of what would 
turn out to be a legendary writing career. For several years he had written for the Village Voice, 
New York City’s hip alternative weekly newspaper. Esquire — “the magazine for men,” as it 
billed itself, half a million readers strong — wanted to know if Rosenbaum would be interested in 
covering the phone phreak story. 

“It immediately seemed to me to be a story I’d want to do,” Rosenbaum says. 

In the spring of 1971 Rosenbaum flew out to San Francisco to meet with Gilbertson and his 
attorney. “He showed me a blue box, told me the basics of how it was manufactured, how the 
tones worked, how you produce the phone company tones by merging two different cycles,” 
Rosenbaum remembers. 

Gilbertson passed on contact information for the kids in the network: Engressia, Acker, 
Teresi, Fettgather — the usual suspects. Soon, says Rosenbaum, “I started having running 
conversations with a bunch of phone phreaks.” Rosenbaum recalls attending a meeting of 
phone phreaks in a suburb of San Francisco. “It was like entering this Alice in Wonderland 
electronic outlaw underground,” he said. 

He recalls being surprised by the breadth and depth of the network. “This network of people 
doing this was so extensive, and yet I hadn’t seen anything about it in the media, I hadn’t seen 
any reports about it, it was all new to me. It seemed to be fairly highly evolved and fairly ... not 
well-organized, necessarily, but it just seemed to be a lot of people with a lot of interchange.” In 
fact, it reminded him of fiction, he says. “I think I was also influenced in my vision of the phone 
phreaks by the Thomas Pynchon novel The Crying of Lot 49, which also describes this kind of 

underground communication network. They seemed to be living it out, in a way.” Far from 
feeling that they were scary or weird, Rosenbaum says he felt “they were outside the 
mainstream of conventional America, but that was a reason for me to admire them, more than 
anything else. I admired their independent spirit and their sort of pioneering exploration and 
then their willingness to take risks.” 

“Then Captain Crunch injected himself into the publication,” Rosenbaum recalls. “All 
throughout it, during the reporting of the story, he was injecting himself into the story. It was 
fairly clear that, with some justice, he considered himself if not the star, certainly a star in the 
phone phreak firmament. And he was always managing to interrupt calls I was having with 
other phone phreaks to check up on me, demonstrate his talents, stuff like that.” 

Rosenbaum’s experience with Captain Crunch echoed that of many of the other phreaks in 
the 21 1 1 gang. Indeed, John Draper had developed a second nickname among some of them: 
Mr. Intense. It was bestowed on him for his lack of manners, his rapid-fire speech, his supersize 
ego, and his impatience for anything that got in his way. Draper would often go nuts if he was 
trying to reach someone on the phone and encountered a busy signal, Bill Acker recalls. 
Draper would call the operator in such situations and, saying it was an emergency, demand to 
be cut into the line of whoever it was he was trying to reach. “Bell Labs invented call waiting for 
people like John Draper,” Acker says. If Draper tried to call you and you weren’t immediately 
available, he would often berate whoever answered the phone and insist that they go find you 
immediately, a behavior that did not endear him to the parents of his teenage phone phreak 
friends. In person encounters could be even more intense. Draper had a hatred of cigarette 
smoke, for example, and was famous for throwing tantrums when he encountered it at a 
restaurant. “He was pretty strange,” says Jim Fettgather. 

Draper claims that he warned the phreaks that talking to Rosenbaum was a bad idea and 
would get them all in trouble and might lead to the end of their hobby. He said he asked 
Rosenbaum not to write the article. “When I talked to Ron, I let him know in no uncertain terms 
that to publish this would cause major problems, not just for me, but for the phone company and 
all parties concerned, and did everything in my power to convince him not to publish this 
information.” Rosenbaum’s recollection differs: “At the time Crunch was very happy to be 
included in the story.” 

Rosenbaum concluded his West Coast interviews and flew to Memphis to spend some time 
with Joe Engressia. “He was a really fascinating character,” Rosenbaum recalls, “a really 
likable guy.” Rosenbaum returned home to New York to finish his assignment. 

The picture on the cover of Esquire magazine’s October 1971 issue was striking: a naked 
1940s pinup girl on a swing, blond hair flowing behind her, breasts strategically hidden by her 
upraised arms. But for some readers, the really striking picture came on page 1 16: a full-page, 
full-frontal black-and-white photo — but not of a pinup girl. No, the photo was of a small plastic 
box with a silver metal face, four screws, and thirteen small buttons. The caption read, simply, 
“Actual size.” 

The photo was the lead in to Rosenbaum’s article, “Secrets of the Little Blue Box.” It followed 
the adventures of a fanciful mix of characters, members of an otherworldly underground 
network of phone phreaks. The soul of the network was Joe Engressia, a blind twenty-two-year- 
old from Memphis who could whistle free phone calls and whom Rosenbaum dubbed the 
“granddaddy of phone phreaking.” Engressia, Rosenbaum wrote, sat like a sightless spider at 
the center of a web of other phone phreaks. A dozen teenagers — some blind, some sighted — 
formed the bulk of the network, each with his own odd nickname: Fraser Lucey from New York, 
Randy and Mr. Westin from San Jose, the Midnight Skulker from Seattle, the list went on. 
Rosenbaum chronicled their clandestine activities, their meeting like spies on anonymous loop- 

around circuits and their efforts to trick telephone company employees into manipulating 
switching equipment for them. The article spoke of an electronic mecca: a legendary 
conference call setup called “21 1 1 ” that only phone phreaks could reach, one where dozens of 
teenagers would talk for hours, exchanging information on the telephone system and swapping 
tales of their adventures. 

Their hobby may have been illegal but Rosenbaum portrayed most of the phreaks as 
possessing the innocence of monks, electronic seminary students studying the Bell System’s 
long-distance network as if it were scripture. An older, worldlier character named Al Gilbertson 
injected hints of avarice and danger with his plans to Make Money Fast by selling blue boxes to 
the mob. And throughout the article a maniacal fellow referred to only as Captain Crunch kept 
popping up. Crunch appeared to be some kind of crazy superphreak who claimed to live out of 
his VW van as he traveled the country, using his wits and his blue box to tap phone lines and 
make calls that circled the globe from one pay phone to another — all while staying one step 
ahead of the telephone company and the FBI. 

All in all, Rosenbaum’s story read like a telephonic cross between an acid trip and Gulliver’s 
Travels. It seemed like it had to be fiction. 

Except that it wasn’t — aside, perhaps, from some journalistic license. With the exception of 
Engressia, Rosenbaum gave the characters pseudonyms and brushed more than enough 
makeup over them to obscure their identities; some, in fact, were composite characters. 
Rosenbaum’s distinctive writing style later caused several of the characters he portrayed to 
raise their eyebrows just a smidge when they read the article. “I thought he spiced it up too 
much,” recalls Gilbertson. Bill Acker, who says he was the lion’s share of the composite 
character “Fraser Lucey” in the article, agrees. “I didn’t like the technical inaccuracies,” he says. 

Technical inaccuracies are one thing, Acker allows, and flavor another: “Fie captured the 
spirit of it wonderfully!” Indeed. The article’s tone and style lent an air of mystery and hipness to 
an otherwise geeky hobby. Rosenbaum even coined a new word in the article: phreak, with a 
“ph.” Although they had referred to themselves as phone freaks prior to the Esquire article, it 
had always been freaks with an “f.” Now, forever more, it would be phreaks. 

Readers with a slight bit of technical knowledge found the article intriguing, something worth 
investigating. The article gave enough leads to get people started, but not enough to hand it to 
them without some work on their own. In many ways, like the telephone network itself, it was a 
puzzle, a fifteen-thousand-word one that begged to be solved. To the right sort of reader, the 
rewards for solving this puzzle were intoxicating. It wasn’t just the ability to make free phone 
calls but the promise of joining a secret society, one whose members could control the 
telephone network and con telephone switchmen into doing their bidding. 

One part of the article described a phone phreak trick called tandem stacking. Remember 
that tandems were like intermediate stops on the telephone network: if you needed to call from 
Long Island to Chicago your call would likely be routed through at least one tandem switching 
machine to get there, and possibly a couple of them. The phone company spent lots of money 
and R&D effort in making the tandems smart enough to route calls automatically, like the 
hulking No. 4A switching machine that took up a city block, with its metal punch cards encoded 
with routing information. That was the intelligence that enabled the switching equipment to 
automatically route calls across the country. This is great news if you’re a typical telephone 
user; you just want your calls to go through and you don’t particularly care how they get there. 
But not if you’re a phone phreak. 

Phone phreaks like control, to be in charge of the network, to decide exactly how their calls 
get from point A to point B. For some this was a love of discovery. “What happens if I route the 
call this way? What does it sound like?” For others it was a flexing of electronic muscles, a 

feeling of power that came from exercising will over Ma Bell’s billion-dollar network. And for still 
others it was just fun, a way to goof off, an interesting mental challenge followed by a lovely 
auditory experience. 

Tandem stacking was possible thanks to a bug — some would call it a feature — in a particular 
type of telephone switch called a crossbar tandem. Crossbar tandems could be tricked with a 
blue box into sending your call via a particular route in the network. It might work as follows: 

Say you’re Bill Acker out in Farmingdale, New York. You dial an 800 number that goes to 
someplace out of state — California, let’s say. The first leg of your call gets routed through a 
switching machine called White Plains Tandem 2, which happens to be a 4A tandem. Before 
anyone in California answers your call you send a burst of 2,600 Hz down the line and hear the 
kerchink come back from White Plains. This is the “wink” signal that tells you you’ve reset the 
call and are now talking directly to the White Plains 4A, which is waiting for you to send it MF 

Using your blue box you send KP 099 21 3 ST, a string of digits that doesn’t look much like a 
telephone number. Within a given area code there are of course many different cities, and many 
of these cities had their own tandems. Partially as a holdover from the old days of operators 
plugging cords into jacks, each of these tandems was given a three-digit terminating toll center 
(TTC) code. In New York’s 516 area code, 099 refers to a crossbar tandem in Poughkeepsie. 
So White Plains sees the 099 you sent, grabs a trunk to Poughkeepsie, and sends it the 
remaining digits: KP 213 ST. Poughkeepsie recognizes 213 as the area code for Los Angeles, 
so it takes this as a command to get southern California on the line. It connects you to a 4A 
tandem there called Los Angeles 2. But Poughkeepsie has run out of digits — that is, it has no 
further digits to send to Los Angeles — so while it establishes the connection to LA it doesn’t do 
anything more. 

Now it’s your turn again. You and your blue box, via White Plains and Poughkeepsie, are 
now whispering into the ear of Los Angeles 2. You key KP 707 001 042 ST; 707 is the area 
code for the northern part of the San Francisco Bay Area and 001 is the terminating toll center 
code for Eureka, a small town in northern California. Los Angeles Tandem 2 recognizes 707 
001 and grabs a trunk to Eureka and sends KP 042 ST. As it happens, 042 is the TTC code for 
Santa Rosa, California, so Eureka in turn grabs a trunk to Santa Rosa. But, like Poughkeepsie, 
Eureka has run out of digits, so the action stops for a moment. You’re now talking to the Santa 
Rosa crossbar tandem via White Plains, Poughkeepsie, Los Angeles, and Eureka. Using your 
blue box you send KP 312 338 1975 ST, the number of your friend in Chicago. Santa Rosa 
finds a trunk to Chicago and sends it the seven-digit local number to dial. Your friend’s phone 
begins to ring. 

You’ve just placed a call that could have taken two hops through the network and traveled 
750 miles and turned it into one with six hops over more than 5,000 miles. The call will now be 
way noisier than it needed to be and the audio distortion introduced by the extra crossbar 
tandems will make it sound like hell. Why on earth would you do this? Because you could. 
Because you’re a phone phreak. Most of all, Acker recalls, because it was just plain fun. 

When your friend in Chicago picks up the phone he will instantly know this is a special call — 
if he’s a phone phreak, that is. He will first hear the hiss of the long-distance trunk noise, much 
louder than usual because of the peculiar call routing you’ve gone to such trouble to create. 
Over the course of the next couple of seconds he will hear a series of phantomlike kerchinky 
noises, one after another — about six in all — fading in volume as they go. It will be as if they are 
receding into the vapor of the network, almost as if they are running away from him. As it turns 
out, they are; these are the sounds of the supervision signal being sent from his phone in 
Chicago to the billing equipment in Long Island, a signal that is repeated by each intermediate 

tandem, each farther away from your friend and closer to you. When you hang up, the domino 
process will repeat, but this time the dominos will be falling toward your friend in Chicago, the 
kerchinks getting louder and louder as the supervision signal races toward him, repeated by 
each tandem as it goes. 

Tandem stacking was simply a cool, harmless prank . . . until Captain Crunch made some 
hair-raising claims in the Esquire article, saying that just “three phone phreaks [could] saturate 
the phone system of the nation. Saturate it. Busy it out.” This could be done, he said, by 
stacking tandems to tie up long-distance trunk lines between cities. 

It was an alarming claim. It also happened to be nonsense, at least according to Bill Acker, 
Crunch’s friend and the phone phreak probably most versed in long-distance call routing. “I 
don’t know what John was smoking when he said that,” Acker says. “I just don’t know why he 
said things like that.” According to Acker there were simply too many trunk lines between cities, 
the switching systems all supported the concept of alternate routing — that is, looking for an 
alternative route if the first choice was busy — and, finally, it was difficult to stack up more than 
about six or seven tandems at a time. 

One of the other alarming things in the Esquire article was the suggestion that phone phreaks 
somehow had a preternatural ability to con telephone company employees into flipping 
switches in central offices for them. As it turns out, they did. When it came to the ability to BS 
telephone company employees, Denny Teresi — “Randy” in the Esquire article — was the 
undisputed master of the phone phreak phlimphlam, what would later become known as social 
engineering: calling someone up, pretending to be someone else, and getting them to do things 
for you, things they shouldn’t oughta do. Teresi’s targets were unwitting switchmen in 
telephone company central offices. Pretending to be another telephone company switchman or 
technician, his usual goal was getting his marks to wire up loop arounds or conference circuits 
or getting such circuits restored to operation when they had been removed from service. His 
patter might go something like this. 

“Hey buddy, this is Fred in the network service center. How you doing? Hey, the loop around 
in your office seems to be busy. I wonder if you could take a look at it for me?” Depending on 
how green the switchman was, he might need some coaching. “Okay, let’s find out what the 
trunk group is. On your computer type VFY-EXG-2701 00. Look for a TR02 message. Yeah. See 
it? Okay, in the TR02 message, you’ll find on the third line down, on the left-hand side, you’ll 
find the trunk group. Do you have that? Great. What is it? Fifty-five? Okay, now, we wanna find 
the TRZ in the trunk group. The way we’ll do that is type TRK-TRZ-QT0055 . . 

If you’re wondering how the phone phreaks learned this kind of stuff, often all they had to do 
was ask. “Sometimes you’d call up and get a switchman who knew what he was doing,” Acker 
says. “You’d ask him to do something for you and he’d jump right on it. Then you’d ask him to 
explain to you how he did it. You’d say something like, ‘Wow, that’s great, thanks! You know, 
I’m finding we’re running into that problem a lot. Can you talk me through what you did to fix it?”’ 

Teresi explains his modus operandi this way: “I understood the equipment well enough. You 
just start trying it and see what happens. If you knew enough about it and you had the right 
tone, you could often get them to do it. Of course, you had to have the knack of BS a little bit, 
you needed to be able to convince them that, even though this was not a normal channels kind 
of thing, that it was still okay.” One of his techniques involved reassuring his target. “For 
example, you tell them to choose the line links [i.e., where the wires should be terminated for a 
bogus conference call setup], and then you’d tell them you were immediately going to call 
T raffic [Engineering] and clear it with them, so they wouldn’t reassign them.” That way the target 
knew he wasn’t going to get in trouble for whatever strange thing he was being asked to do. 
“We were doing things that were definitely nonstandard but it was just a matter of sounding 

authoritative enough to convince them that it was okay to do,” Teresi says. 

Teresi’s task was made easier by the size of the telephone company and its sprawling 
geography, with its roughly one million employees spread out across virtually every town and 
city in the United States. The size and scope of the Bell System forced it to rely on its own 
product, the telephone, to perform its daily business; one historian estimated that some 95 
percent of all telephone company internal business was conducted over the phone. And 
besides, say you’re a telephone company switchman. Just how likely is it, really, that some kid 
is going to get your unlisted work telephone number and then call you up and ask you to do 
some obscure technical thing for him? And how could a kid possibly know enough about your 
job and the equipment you use to be able to convince you that he works for your company and 
that his is a legitimate request? 

That was — and is — the sort of thinking that allows social engineering to work. “It’s really kind 
of wild that we were able to get them to do it, but it was just a matter of sounding convincing 
enough,” Teresi remembers. “If you got someone with not enough experience, they’d fall for it.” 

“Denny was the best,” says Acker. The term “social engineering” hadn’t been coined yet, so 
in Teresi’s honor the phone phreaks invented a new verb: to DT someone was to bullshit them 
so thoroughly that they never suspected they’d been had. 

Rosenbaum’s writing skill coupled with Esquire’s circulation did more in one month to spread 
phone phreaking into the mainstream than anything before or after. The Law of Unintended 
Consequences could brush its hands together briskly. Its work here was done and the train was 
now fully off the rails. 

John Draper remembers the publication of the Esquire article as if it were yesterday. A student 
at San Jose City College, Draper went to his first class that morning and then walked across 
the street to buy a copy of the magazine. “I went back to my car and I read it cover to cover,” 
Draper says. “I missed three classes. I had to read it. I could not go to those classes.” When he 
finished, he remembers, “I said, ‘Oh my God. Well, I guess that’s pretty much the end of phone 

Draper drove home. He called Denny Teresi and read the article to him over the phone. 
Draper was certain that with this much publicity, with this many secrets being exposed, the 
telephone company would have to take action. Holes in the network would be plugged up. 
Things that used to be safe now wouldn’t be. The phone company and the FBI could come 
swooping down on them at any moment. “I knew right then and there that phone phreaking as I 
knew it was ended,” he recalled. 

Worse, Draper was featured as one of the stars of the article. The good news was that he 
was under the alias Captain Crunch. But many phreaks knew his real name. And if there were 
raids, he figured he was likely to be the prime target. It was just a matter of time, he thought. 
Draper took his blue boxes and put them in a shed out back, where they wouldn’t be 
discovered if the FBI searched his apartment. He made a decision, he recalls. From that 
moment on, “they don’t live with me anymore.” 

Draper’s instincts were right; as the saying goes, “Even paranoids have enemies.” While the 
Esquire article was still being written the phone company was already beginning to step up its 
enforcement activities. In May of that year, after a three-month investigation, New York 
Telephone and the police arrested nine college students for blue box fraud in New York — eight 
upstate in Potsdam at Clarkson College of Technology and the State University of New York 
and one at the New York Institute of Technology; the NYIT student was referred to in the New 
York Times as a “boy genius.” The very next day another ten students at Case Western 
Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, were arrested on similar charges. That August, eight 
more people were arrested by the FBI for blue box fraud in Billings, Montana. In September, 

four more people — including one telephone company employee, who claimed innocence — 
were arrested in Pennsylvania. 

Draper’s worries weren’t helped when Maureen Orth’s “For Whom Ma Bell Tolls Not” was 
published on October 31, 1971, in the Sunday supplement to the Los Angeles Times. The 
article, which was later reprinted in other newspapers, read like a shorter version of the Esquire 
story. It opened with a description of Captain Crunch in a pay phone booth at a gas station 
using his blue box to get the American embassy in Moscow on the line. It discussed the blind 
phreaks, Joe Engressia, tandem stacking and quoted an independent telephone company 
source as saying that the cost of blue box fraud might be as high as $50 million a year. 

Just a couple of weeks after Orth’s article appeared, Bob Gudgel (aka Bob Bernay), a 
seventeen-year-old Seattle-area phreak and a frequent 2111 conference attendee, had some 
unusual trick-or-treaters. Knocking on his door was J. C. Vanlnwegen, Pacific Northwest Bell 
security agent, and two other men. Wiggy, as he would come to be known to Seattle-area 
phreaks, was accompanied by an FBI agent and a United States marshal with a search 
warrant. They hauled away several radios, assorted electronic items, and a box of what Gudgel 
recalls as “telephone crap.” The trio presented Gudgel with a subpoena commanding him to 
testify at a federal grand jury in Seattle a few days later. Gudgel wasn’t the only one. In all, 
roughly half a dozen Seattle-area phone phreaks were called before the grand jury. “The phone 
phreaks are a public menace — not just a rip-off of Ma Bell,” a telephone company attorney said, 
describing them as “mildly mentally unbalanced.” 

According to an internal AT&T memo, there were six electronic toll fraud prosecutions in 
1970. In 1971 that number jumped to forty-five. The empire was beginning to strike back. 

Draper wasn’t the only one who studied the Esquire issue when it came out. The magazine’s 
target audience was cool young men, guys who today would be called hipsters. But two 
middle-aged engineers who weren’t in the magazine’s usual demographic also found 
themselves carefully reading the October issue. They were Charlie Schulz and Ken Hopper, 
members of the technical staff of the Telephone Crime Lab at Bell Laboratories. 

Hopper’s path to the Telephone Crime Lab was a circuitous one. In 1971 he was a 
distinguished-looking forty-five-year-old electrical engineer, a bit on the heavy side, with blue 
eyes, short brown hair, and glasses. Hopper had joined the Bell System some twenty-five years 
earlier, shortly after the end of World War II. Within a few years he had found himself at Bell 
Laboratories’ Special Systems Group working on government electronics projects. The 
stereotype of government work is that it’s boring, but Hopper was a lightning rod for geek 
adventure: wherever he went to do technical things physical danger never seemed far behind. 
There was the time he had to shoot a polar bear that had broken into his cabin while he was 
stationed up in the Arctic working on the then secret Distant Early Warning Line, the 1950s-era 
radar system that would provide advance warning of a Soviet bomber attack. Or the time he 
almost died in a cornfield in Iowa while building a giant radio antenna for a 55-kilowatt 
transmitter to “heat up the ionosphere” for another secret project. Then there’s the stuff he still 
can’t really talk about in detail, involving submarines and special tape recorders and undersea 
wiretaps of Soviet communications cables. 

The Special Systems Group was a natural to help AT&T with the Greenstar toll-fraud 
surveillance network in the 1960s, Hopper says, and that work led to involvement with other 
telephone security matters. But the Telephone Crime Lab also owes its existence to the FBI. 
Hopper recalls, “In the mid-1960s the FBI laboratory came to our upper management and said 
they were getting electronic-involved crimes. They had no people in their laboratory that could 
examine evidence in these cases, especially related to communication systems, and they 
asked for Bell Labs’ assistance. Upper management of Bell Labs agreed that this was in the 

public interest and that we would do that. The work was assigned to my organization, Charlie 
Schulz being the supervisor. We had just a few people, never more than two or three, working 
on this stuff. Initially it was to be a five percent job . . . but within five years it was darn near a 
hundred percent job.” 

So it fell to Schulz and Hopper to study that month’s Esquire magazine in detail. Their report 
to their bosses — and to Joe Doherty, AT&T’s director of security — opened with a glum 
assessment. “The article entitled ‘Secrets of the Little Blue Box’ by Ron Rosenbaum in the 
October 1971 issue of Esquire Magazine is essentially factual,” their memo began. “Some of 
his material is very recent and indicates an active inside source.” It then went through the 
article, page by page, dissecting the phone phreak claims, some acknowledged, many 

Hopper constructed a two-page appendix to Schulz’s memo, a detailed table listing twenty- 
one names mentioned in the article, setting forth all the information Bell Labs had about each 
miscreant: age, whether blind or sighted, whether or not each knew Joe Engressia, physical 
description, and any other information they could glean from the article. “Fat, has been on LSD, 
experimenting with 2600 since age 8,” read part of the entry for Engressia, for example. 

The memo demonstrated that Bell Labs took the Esquire article seriously, that the phone 
company was not about to take this sitting down. But it also demonstrated just how poor a grasp 
the Bell Labs engineers had of the phone phreaks — in terms of both who the phreaks were and 
what they were capable of doing. Hopper’s analysis of the names used in the article provided 
no useful information about any of the phreaks other than Engressia, and he was already well 
known to the telephone company. Worse, much of Bell Labs’ technical analysis of the phone 
phreaking techniques revealed by the Rosenbaum article was simply wrong. For example, the 
Bell Labs memo discounted the phone phreak parlor trick of tandem stacking, claiming it just 
wasn’t possible. “He talks about ‘tandem stacking’ as if he had the ability to deliberately select 
multilink routes and to keep adding on links,” Schulz wrote. This was an “exaggeration”; the 
network simply did not work that way, the memo concluded. 

In fact it was no exaggeration at all. The phone phreaks did have this ability and they used it 
to amuse themselves on a regular basis. It was a great example of how engineering insiders 
are often the last to know what is actually possible with the systems they design. Part of the 
problem was probably pride. Bell Labs had created the telephone switching network and, 
consciously or unconsciously, didn’t want to admit how vulnerable it was; its engineers were, in 
some sense, spring-loaded to disbelieve reports to the contrary. The other part of the problem 
was both larger and more subtle. Compared to the phone phreaks, the Bell Labs engineers 
were laboring under a great disadvantage, for they understood how the system was supposed 
to work and that blinded them to how the system actually did work — and therefore how it could 
be made to do things it was never designed to do. 

The result was that they could not see the holes in their network that sixteen-year-old blind 
kids could, even when Rosenbaum and the blind kids explained it to them. 




T hose four words, all in caps, formed the headline of a flyer handed out at the 1 971 May Day 

demonstrations in Washington, D.C. More than thirty thousand hippies, Yippies, students, and 
radicals had camped out on the banks of the Potomac. They smoked dope, they listened to rock 
music, they marched, they protested — against the Vietnam War, against the military-industrial 
complex, against racism, sexism, the government, and Tricky Dick Nixon. It was, in some ways, 
the ultimate realization of Marlon Brando’s reply in The Wild One when asked what he was 
rebelling against: “Whadya got?” 

The flyer heralded the birth of a new newsletter: YIPL, the Youth International Party Line. Its 
name was a play on words that reflected both its roots and its focus. The “YIP” part made it 
known that it was an offshoot of the Youth International Party, the sometimes radical, 
sometimes comedic, but always theatrical countercultural movement and quasi-political party. 
Founded in 1967, the Yippies sought to radicalize the hippie movement and called for 
revolution in America — or, as they spelled it, Amerika: “We are a people. We are a new nation. 
[. . .] We want everyone to control their own life and care for one another. [. . .] We will provide 
free health services: birth control and abortions, drug information, medical care, that this society 
is not providing us with. [. . .] We cannot tolerate attitudes, institutions, and machines whose 
purpose is the destruction of life, the accumulation of ‘profit.’” Despite the serious rhetoric, the 
Yippies approached their revolution with humor. Their flag was a marijuana leaf on a red star 
and, in 1968, at the Democratic National Convention, they announced the nomination of a pig 
— Pigasus the Immortal — for president of the United States. They were later referred to, aptly, 
as Groucho Marxists. 

The “party line” part of YIPL’ s name emphasized its focus on the telephone. Party lines were 
a form of telephone service used in rural areas in which multiple houses would share the same 
telephone line. Want to make a call? Better hope that your neighbor down the street isn’t 
already using the phone. Want the call to be private? Better hope that neighbor isn’t listening. 

The connection between the Yippies and the telephone was this: YIPL was devoted to 
teaching Yippies and hippies and rebellious youth how to use the telephone as a tool of civil 
disobedience, specifically, how to make free phone calls to fuck the Bell System and, with it, 
the United States government. 

YIPL was the brainchild of Alan Fierstein and Yippie founder Abbie Hoffman. Fierstein was an 
engineering major at Cornell University during the late 1960s who had long been interested in 
the telephone system. Based on his own investigations and through conversations with his 
fellow engineering students he had learned several ways to make free telephone calls. But 
Fierstein differed from many phone phreaks in one important way: he was strongly political. As 
a young liberal student at the end of a tumultuous decade he recalls feeling that his mission 
was to “end the Vietnam War and oppose Nixon in any possible way.” 

In his travels through the antiwar demonstrations at Cornell, Fierstein made the acquaintance 
of the famous and flamboyant Abbie Hoffman, who was then in the process of writing Steal This 
Book, the Yippie manifesto that taught its readers how to get free food, free postage, free 
weapons, even a free buffalo from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Fierstein told Hoffman of 
the ways he knew to make free phone calls and Hoffman was quick to incorporate them into his 
stealable book. Hoffman, Fierstein recalls, “felt that the technology that I had would be useful in 
fighting the enemy, which in his case was the United States government. And while I had no 
love for the government, of course I also had a hatred for the phone company.” 

Understanding Fierstein’s hatred of the phone company requires understanding a few things 
about the phone company itself — and the public’s perception of it — in the late 1960s and early 
1 970s. Back then, AT&T wasn’t simply the largest company on earth; it was the world’s largest 
regulated private monopoly. People generally have little love for monopolies, associating them 
with high prices and poor service, and the telephone company was no exception to this general 

rule. “In a country indissolubly wed to free enterprise, AT&T stands as a corporate enigma, 
being a regulated monopoly and the only major phone company in the world not owned and 
run by a national government,” New York Times business reporter Sonny Kleinfield wrote. “It is 
like some culture in a Petri dish about which scientists cannot agree whether it is harmful or 

As a regulated entity, the telephone company couldn’t increase its rates without permission 
from its regulatory masters, the FCC and various state public utility commissions. But that didn’t 
stop the company from asking, and AT&T became notorious for its rate hike requests. At first 
glance, this reputation seemed undeserved: AT&T’s 1970 request for a 6 percent increase in 
telephone long-distance rates was its first in thirteen years. But AT&T’s vast size meant that just 
about every year some part of its far-flung empire was asking some regulatory body somewhere 
for permission to charge its customers more money. In addition to a long-distance rate hike, the 
AT&T corporation wanted to increase rates for private telephone lines for things like teletype 
newswires in 1 961 and, in 1 968, for specialized high-quality leased lines for audio feeds used 
by radio and television broadcasters. Bell System local operating companies had their hands 
out too. Southern New England Telephone and Southern Bell both asked regulators for rate 
hikes in 1961, Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone in 1964, Pacific Telephone in 1966 (and 
then again in 1967), Pacific Northwest Bell and Southern Bell in 1968, New York Telephone 
and — once again — Southern New England Telephone in 1969. 

Being frequently in the news asking for more money from rate payers does not endear you to 
the public. Nor did AT&T’s insistence that all telephones were rented to customers, never 
owned by them outright. This policy, in place since the inception of the Bell System, wasn’t just 
for telephone lines but extended to the telephones themselves. Want a single telephone line 
with two or three extension telephones in your house? Expect to pay the phone company every 
month for each telephone; prices varied across the United States, but figure about $1 per month 
per extension in 1970. Local telephone companies ran “ringer tests” at night using automated 
equipment to count the number of telephones on each line in an effort to spot unauthorized 
extensions; indeed, in the mid-seventies the Bell System went so far as to deploy a specialized 
telephone testing computer system called DUE — “detect unauthorized equipment” — to catch 
subscribers with unauthorized extensions. (A common technique to get around this was to 
install telephone extensions with their ringers disconnected so they couldn’t be electronically 
spotted by the phone company.) Installers — or, more accurately, deinstallers — would be 
dispatched to remove offending instruments; repeat offenders could have telephone service 
terminated entirely. Needless to say, these were not the sorts of interactions that promoted 
warm gooey feelings toward the telephone company. 

AT&T’s reputation wasn’t helped by the great service failures of 1969 and 1970. As a 1969 
New York Times article put it, “Cries of frustration over erratic telephone service are being 
heard from more and more of the United States’ major metropolitan areas. Although most of the 
attention has focused on New York, where Federal Communication Commission officials say 
the situation is the most severe, telephone customers in such cities as Miami, Boston, Denver, 
Atlanta, and Los Angeles are finding themselves inconvenienced and angered by a variety of 
troubles.” Customer frustrations included the “inability to get dial tone for minutes or even hours; 
the rapid ‘buzz buzz’ that means all circuits are busy; the recorded voice that informs the 
customer the number he is calling no longer is ‘in service,’ when he knows it is; the line that 
unaccountably goes dead; the busy signal that intrudes before the caller finishes dialing; 
delays in getting telephones installed, and assorted misconnections, disconnections, and 
malconnections.” As one writer described it, “A kind of surrealistic telephone chaos reigned, all 
too suggestive of a world gone mad.” 

The madness peaked in July 1969 when an entire telephone exchange — PLaza 8 on East 
56th Street in New York City — failed completely due to overload; more than 10,400 telephones 
in that exchange became unreachable for large chunks of the day for several weeks. AT&T 
acknowledged that customer complaints had reached record numbers; a New York Telephone 
executive vice president publicly described service as “lousy.” For its part, the telephone 
company blamed the problems on “unforeseeable expansion in demand for telephone use” — in 
other words, AT&T was the victim of its own success, for too many people were demanding 
telephone service and the company was unable to add capacity quickly enough to serve them. 
This caused some at the Federal Communications Commission to wonder, as the New York 
Times put it, “whether the telephone companies’ management techniques are equal to the job 
of maintaining the United States’ communication network in good order.” An FCC investigation 
of telephone service complaints was launched. 

Then there was the Bell System’s reputation for discriminatory hiring and promotion 
practices. “For a long time,” wrote one historian, “AT&T was the corporate personification of 
male chauvinism and racism. It had acquired a well-known tradition of hiring relatively few 
members of racial minorities, and while it was the biggest employer of women, it traditionally 
relegated them to low-level slots as secretaries or operators.” Although the telephone company 
was able to offer some evidence that it was working to correct these problems, in 1970 the 
federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took an unprecedented step: it asked the 
Federal Communications Commission to deny a $385 million AT&T rate hike request until the 
telephone company ended its “callous indifference” to equal employment laws and stopped its 
employment discrimination against “blacks, women, and Spanish-surnamed Americans.” The 
FCC responded by launching another sweeping investigation into AT&T, covering not only its 
request for a “major rate increase” but also its cost structure and “charges of discriminatory 
hiring practices.” The feds weren’t the only ones who were unhappy. Within a year, half a 
million telephone workers — members of the AFL-CIO Communications Workers of America and 
related unions — would be on strike for grievances including wages, pensions, health benefits, 
and the telephone company’s “anti-feminist job policies.” 

Finally, there was AT&T’s reputation as the world’s most controlling and straitjacketed 
company, a company that prized conformance and discouraged creativity. “In this office,” said 
an AT&T junior executive in 1 967, “we call it The System,’ and the use of the word ‘the’ means 
dogmatic finality. The wall comes up pretty fast when you start tampering with the way things 
are done within The System, and you either slow down and do things Bell’s way or you knock 
your brains out.” Another AT&T executive agreed: “We prefer to have our men use their own 
initiative, but we leave as little as possible to the imagination.” 

As part of its program to leave as little as possible to the imagination, AT&T created an 
exhaustive collection of manuals and how-to guides covering every conceivable situation. 
Called Bell System Practices or BSPs, they were the very embodiment of “The System,” 
codifying precisely how AT&T equipment was to be assembled, disassembled, configured, and 
serviced and the exact way virtually any task was to be performed by Bell System employees. 
By 1952 there were more than nine thousand individual BSPs; millions of copies were printed 
and distributed to the operating companies.A particularly illustrative example was Bell System 
Practice number 770-130-301 (revised), dated August 1952. Titled “Sweeping, General,” this 
three-page document set forth the authoritative procedure for sweeping floors within the Bell 
System. It differentiated among light sweeping, heavy sweeping, stairway sweeping, and 
“pickup” sweeping, offered instructions for each, and provided a helpful list of tools required 
(including, not surprisingly, a broom, which it properly referred to as a “floor brush”). Finally, lest 
there be any confusion, it noted that smooth floors within Bell System buildings should be 

swept by alternative sweeping methods — methods described in detail in its two sister BSPs 
770-130-302 and 770-130-303. 

All this made the phone company a perfect target for mockery. In 1967, for example, the 
satirical comedy The President’s Analyst starred James Coburn as Dr. Sidney Schaefer, the 
president’s psychiatrist. A target for every spy agency on the planet, Schaefer goes increasingly 
crazy himself, reeling from one paranoid situation to another until he is finally kidnapped by the 
largest, most diabolical organization of all: The Phone Company — or TPC — which is run by a 
“robotic man in a three piece suit.” As one reviewer wrote at the time, “I find it hard to fault a 
writer who has the gall to make the phone company his villain.” 

Then, two years later in 1969, Lily Tomlin introduced a new character to her comedy 
repertoire: Ernestine, a prissy, officious, nasal-voiced telephone company employee. Sitting 
before a switchboard on the controversial Laugh-In television show, Ernestine tormented 
famous personalities of the day, including “Mr. Milhous” (Richard Nixon), “Mr. Spiro” (Spiro 
Agnew), and “Mr. Hoover” (J. Edgar Hoover), her punch lines emphasized by her famous snort. 
“If we do not receive payment within ten days,” she advised a “Mr. Veedle” (Gore Vidal) in one 
skit, “we will send a large burly serviceman to rip [your phone] out of your wall. I’d advise you to 
lock up the liquor cabinet, he’s a mean drunk. Now, Mr. Veedle, wouldn’t you rather pay than 
lose your service and possibly the use of one eye?” Ernestine struck a chord not just with the 
public but also with the telephone company’s rank and file, and she hit a nerve with their 
higher-ups too. Telephone operators in Southern California made Tomlin an honorary operator 
and presented her with a trophy, the Cracked Bell Award. “They love the character, Ernestine, 
but they said the phone company is a little uptight,” Tomlin told newspapers at the time. A few 
years later, in a fake television commercial shown on Saturday Night Live, Ernestine captured 
the telephone company’s perceived incompetence — “You see, the phone system consists of a 
multibillion-dollar matrix of space-age technology that is so sophisticated even we can’t handle 
it” — and immortalized its perceived arrogance with the motto “We don’t care. We don’t have to. 
We’re the phone company.” 

So, sure, lots of people disliked the telephone company back in 1970, Fierstein included. But 
what on earth did making free phone calls have to do with opposing Abbie Hoffman’s enemy — 
that is, the United States government — and ending the war in Vietnam? 

The answer lay in something called the telephone excise tax. Way back in 1898 Congress 
legislated a special tax on long-distance telephone calls to help fund the Spanish-American 
War. Although the tax has come and gone several times since then, it’s come more than it’s 
gone, and somehow it always seemed to be around whenever we were fighting a war. World 
Wars I and II both had their telephone taxes and Vietnam was no different. The 10 percent 
telephone tax was added to your telephone bill and collected by the telephone company, who 
in turn handed it over to the government. The feds netted more than $1.5 billion from the 
telephone tax in 1971 , enough to cover about 10 percent of the costs of the Vietnam War that 

So, the theory went, deprive the Bell System of long-distance revenue and you deprive the 
United States of telephone tax revenue that it needs to send young men off to fight and die in 
Southeast Asia. See? You can make free phone calls and feel good about it. 

Fierstein recalls that, as a result of his discussions with Abbie Hoffman, “We decided that I 
would start a newsletter and I would introduce the newsletter to the antiwar community by 
distributing leaflets at the May Day demonstrations in Washington, D.C. So I took a bus down 
there, armed with a stack of a few hundred leaflets entitled ‘Fuck the Bell System,’ and putting 
in the connection between technology and many other cultural issues of the time, not just the 
war but racism, sexism, etc., worker conditions at big corporations, particularly Ma Bell.” 

“The response was, we got a few, I don’t remember, maybe high dozens, maybe couple of 
hundred responses to our initial leaflet,” Fierstein says. He started selling cheap subscriptions 
— $1 per year — to the YIPL newsletter. YIPL served as a bit of a Trojan horse, he recalls. “One 
of our main efforts was to try to make the average person who hated the phone company 
identify with that particular rallying point and use that as a way to sweep them into the exposure 
to countercultural ideas about these other subjects, you know, women’s liberation, etc.” 

YIPL’s first issue premiered in June 1971 , with Fierstein writing under the pen name “A I Bell.” 
Black and white, four pages long, its articles explained how to hook up extension telephone 
lines yourself (no need to pay Ma Bell an extra monthly charge) and how to make a simple 
circuit to conference two telephone lines together. It concluded with a bit on the telephone 
excise tax and War Tax Resistance, a group that sought to convince Americans not to pay war- 
related taxes. 

The front-page story of YIPL’s first issue was titled simply “The Credit Card Code” and it told 
how to make free phone calls using made-up telephone credit card numbers. Telephone credit 
cards? Remember, it’s 1971, and cell phones haven’t yet been invented. But people still need 
to make phone calls when they’re out and about. This, of course, is why God created pay 
phones. Long-distance phone calls are expensive, though, and if you’re a traveling 
businessperson you’d prefer not to carry around $45 in coins in order to call your customers 
and home office when you’re on the road. What to do? 

AT&T’s answer was the telephone credit card. This wasn’t a general-purpose credit card like 
those offered by Visa (then BankAmericard), MasterCard (then Master Charge), or American 
Express but rather was a credit card that could be used only to make telephone calls. You’d call 
the operator and ask to make a credit card call. She’d ask for your telephone credit card 
number, place the call for you, and then write up a billing slip. The cost of your call (plus a 
convenience surcharge) would eventually get added to your monthly telephone bill. 

Telephone credit cards were big business for AT&T. During the month of March 1970 the 
telephone company billed almost $40 million in credit card calls. That’s a tasty little revenue 
stream, and it’s tastier still when it’s growing at almost 1 0 percent a year. 

Unfortunately for AT&T, almost a million dollars a month of these billings were 
“uncollectible.” Uncollectible is one of those pleasant business euphemisms that means 
somebody is stiffing you for something. Sometimes customers don’t pay their bills. Sometimes 
operators make mistakes, maybe writing down the wrong billing information. But the lion’s 
share of uncollectibles was due to credit card fraud — people intentionally using bogus credit 
card numbers to make free phone calls. And the uncollectibles problem was rapidly getting 
bigger. Between 1966 and 1970 the percentage of uncollectible credit card revenue had 
increased 320 percent, and the pace was accelerating; the uncollectible percentage doubled in 
just one year between 1 969 and 1 970. 

This runaway growth in fraud was possible because AT&T’s credit card numbering system, 
securitywise, was a bad joke. In 1970 a telephone credit card number consisted of a single 
letter followed by a seven-digit telephone number followed by a three-digit “revenue accounting 
office” (RAO) code. The RAO code was fixed for each area of the country. For example, 
anybody who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area would have a credit card number that ended 
in 1 58. The letter that started a credit card number was the same everywhere in the country and 
it changed just once a year; the letter for 1 970 was “S.” 

The upshot was that if you were only slightly craftier than the average houseplant, you could 
conjure up AT&T credit card numbers out of thin air. Perhaps you’re a radical Yippie pinko who 
wants to annoy the local FBI office by sticking them with your long-distance telephone calls. 
Let’s see, the FBI’s number in San Francisco is 552-2155. Pick up the phone. Dial zero. “Hi, 

operator, I’d like to make a credit card call. My credit card number is S 552-2155 158 . . You 
get to talk to your friend and the FBI foots the bill; the left-wing Students for a Democratic 
Society did just this in 1 973. 

If that wasn’t easy enough, a handful of bogus credit card numbers attained national 
prominence via radio programs and newspapers, especially college and underground 
newspapers. Starting in late 1966 a story popped up that would be repeated over and over in 
various forms, that the actor Steve McQueen (or Paul Newman or Sammy Davis Jr., depending 
on the story) had gotten into a fight with the telephone company. According to one version of 
the story, McQueen had won a million-dollar judgment against the Bell System and wanted to 
share the bounty, so he took out a newspaper ad and gave out his telephone credit card 
number, encouraging students and military servicemen to use it up. Another version had it that 
he had lost his battle with the telephone company but, refusing to give in, had taken out an ad 
in the newspaper giving his telephone credit card number to all and sundry; he would then 
refuse to pay the bill, sticking the phone company with the losses. A spokesman for McQueen 
stated, “Steve doesn’t recall ever having a phone credit card. Besides, no man in his right mind 
would give out his credit card number.” Still, both versions were great stories, and, like other 
urban legends, the fact that they weren’t actually true didn’t stop their spread. AT&T memos 
show that by 1970 more than a million dollars’ worth of fraudulent calls had been billed to the 
two credit card numbers most commonly associated with the McQueen-Newman-Davis Jr. 

The utter lack of security in its credit card numbering system, coupled with the exponential 
increase in fraud, was not lost on the telephone company. “It is evident,” a 1970 AT&T memo 
noted dryly, “that past endeavors to abate uncollectible losses have failed or have proven to be 

AT&T’s solution was to introduce a new credit card system, one that would be harder for the 
bad guys to crack. The new, fraud-resistant 1971 credit card code looked like this: a seven-digit 
telephone number followed by a three-digit RAO code (same as last time) followed by the Big 
Secret: the “check letter.” The check letter was the thing that allowed the operator to know if a 
credit card number was valid. It was the magic that would solve the fraud problem. 

The Big Secret was that each year AT&T would chose a particular digit position — in 1971 it 
was the sixth digit in your telephone number — and that would serve as an index into a table of 
ten letters. For 1971 the letters, in order, were “QAEHJNRUWZ.” If the sixth digit of your phone 
number was a 1 , then the check letter was Q. If it was a 2 the check letter was A. And so on. 

Obviously, protecting the Big Secret was key. “It is necessary that all employees in all 
departments understand the importance of protecting the integrity of the new credit card plan,” 
read an AT&T memo. “Further, it should be made clear that under no circumstances should an 
employee disclose the characteristics of an acceptable credit card number to any unauthorized 
person nor should an employee ever divulge to a customer how she knew that a credit card 
was invalid.” 

The problem with the credit card code’s Big Secret was, of course, clever people. If it’s 
simple enough for operators to be able to figure out on the fly, it’s simple enough for phone 
phreaks — or anybody else who was interested — to reverse engineer with a little bit of time, 
energy, and effort. While the network explorer type of phone phreaks may have looked down 
their collective noses at making fraudulent credit card calls, Bill Acker allows that they worked 
out the telephone credit card code each year just for fun, just by using pencil and paper and 
studying credit card numbers. It was, after all, both telephone-related and a challenge, so the 
phreaks went after it the same way others might solve crossword puzzles. But, Acker says, 
“With all the electronic means we had to get there, you don’t need to mess with people’s phone 

bills to make a free call.” 

Unfortunately for AT&T, the world is not made up of technically minded highbrow phone 
phreaks like Bill Acker; most people interested in the credit card code wanted to make free 
calls, plain and simple. The switch to the new credit card system was scheduled for December 
1, 1970. The first underground and college newspaper articles appeared with the new credit 
card code just two months later. By April 1971 Abbie Hoffman was being interviewed on New 
York City’s WNET-TV, channel 13, promoting Steal This Book. He read directly from his book 
into the camera: “This is going to be a public disservice announcement,” he told his viewers. 
“To make your own credit card numbers, the 1971 credit card consists of ten digits and a letter. 
The first seven digits comprise any New York City telephone number. The phone company will 
bill this number, so make sure the number you use is nonexistent or the number of a large 
corporation. The next three digits are the credit card code. For New York City it’s 021 . The letter 
is based on the sixth digit of the phone number. If the sixth digit is one, then the letter is Q. If it’s 
a two, it’s A . . .” Hoffman went through the complete list and concluded, “For example, for New 
York, you would dial 581 -6000-021 -Z and Channel Thirteen would pick up the bill.” The host of 
the TV show quickly disclaimed responsibility for this idea. 

YIPL’s first issue set the tone of the publication and subsequent issues offered a similar blend 
of technological hackery, countercultural politics, and antiwar and antigovernment rhetoric, all 
sprinkled with goofy illustrations. “I can’t draw very well, as you can see from the first few 
issues,” says Fierstein. 

YIPL’s second issue in July 1971 led with a tutorial on the blue box — what it was, how it 
worked, and how to use it. Inside it reprinted an open letter from the New York Times columnist 
Russell Baker in which Baker suggested that the Yippies’ hatred of the telephone company 
was misplaced; on the opposite page, YIPL published a rebuttal from Hoffman that ended with, 
“Until AT&T and the other corporations really become public services rather than power and 
profit gobblers, we’ll continue to rip them off every chance we get. If you want to discuss this 
further, call me up some time. Because of all the agencies claiming to have me under 
surveillance, it’s one of the fastest ways to speak directly to your government.” Issue no. 2 also 
introduced the first version of what would eventually become YIPL’s icon: the classic bell- 
shaped Bell System logo but one with a Liberty Bell-style crack in it. 

Issue no. 3 in August 1971 raised the price of a subscription to $2 a year — “the best thing you 
can buy for two bucks,” it proclaimed. Despite the price increase, the issue itself was thin on 
content, exhorting readers to send in information. “We tried to enlist, as much as possible, 
people to send in their own ideas because I had a limited amount of information I could write 
myself,” Fierstein says. As YIPL got going, readers supplied letters, tips, ideas, technical 
information, and even finished articles; Fierstein did pretty much everything else himself. “I got 
friends to help fold newsletters,” he says, but “ninety-five percent of it was from me, probably 
more than ninety-five percent, for the first twenty or thirty or forty issues.” He continues, “I really 
did it all, I did the whole thing for many, many years — four years. It was a lot of work ... I lugged 
the newsletters back from the printer, I brought the copies to the printer, I would paste them up, I 
would do everything.” Still, he felt, it was worth the effort. “Every time I received a letter where 
people said they supported us, or someone would say, look, I really don’t have much money 
but I’m enclosing a dollar to help the cause ... I mean, it was so pathetically generous, a small 
amount of money but from someone who couldn’t afford much.” 

YIPL grew rapidly, reaching a peak of between two thousand and three thousand 
subscribers. “We were caught between being smaller and wanting to be bigger,” says Fierstein, 
“but at the same time not wanting to be so big that there would be an incentive for the phone 
company to act on us.” There was, of course, no way to keep YIPL’s existence secret from the 

telephone company, and soon Bell Labs, AT&T, and the various telephone operating 
companies had purchased subscriptions — usually using assumed names and employee home 
addresses. By 1972 YIPL had become sufficiently prominent that AT&T security chief Joseph 
Doherty sent a memo to his security agents: “As you are aware, efforts are continuing to 
effectuate deterrent actions against publications which print detailed instructions regarding 
methods to commit toll fraud. It has been alleged that information published in the Youth 
International Party Line (Y.I.P.L.) newspaper was a source document for some acts of fraud. It 
would be helpful to acquire evidence to substantiate this allegation. Therefore, it is requested 
that signed statements (attesting to source of information) be obtained from fraud perpetrators 
who admit acting to defraud the telephone companies based on information appearing in the 
Y.I.P.L. newsletter.” YIPL obtained a copy of this memo and printed it the next month. 

Although Fierstein did worry that the phone company might try to shut him down, his spirits 
were buoyed by an ace in the hole. “Abbie lent us his lawyer Jerry Lefcourt,” Fierstein recalls. 
Lefcourt was a young firebrand who had made a name for himself as part of the defense team 
for the Chicago Seven, a group of antiwar protesters (including Floffman) who had been 
arrested for conspiracy and incitement of riot in 1968. “He promised to defend us in the unlikely 
event that the phone company would ever prosecute us and elevate our minuscule presence to 
a large-scale story, which we didn’t feel they would want to do.” 

YIPL marked the beginning of the cultural hijacking of phone phreaking. Before this newsletter 
— and before the Esquire article, which would be published a few months after YIPL s first issue 
— phone phreaking had been the domain of the Bill Ackers and Joe Engressias and Charlie 
Pynes and Ralph Barclays of the world: people who were obsessively interested in exploring 
the telephone network and understanding how it all worked. To be sure, these early phreaks 
weren’t immune to the allure of making free phone calls, but that wasn’t their primary interest. In 
contrast, Hoffman and Fierstein took the hobby in a new direction, one simultaneously more 
political and more utilitarian. If the old game was to understand, appreciate, and play with the 
telephone network, the new game was to make free calls and screw Ma Bell and the 

The game was changing. Old Mother Bell couldn’t afford to ignore this for much longer. 



T he woman was a busybody. The man was rude. 

It was December 1971. They were at a discount gas station at the corner of Saratoga Avenue 
and Stevens Creek Boulevard in Sunnyvale, California, the very heart of the Silicon Valley. The 
woman had been waiting patiently to use the gas station’s lone pay phone when the man cut in 
front of her and popped into the telephone booth. 

The woman watched as he took out a small rectangular box. It had wires coming out of it, 
wires that went into something that looked like a mound of clay. The box had a label on its side. 
speech scrambler. Strange sounds came from inside the booth as the man fiddled with the box. 
It all seemed very odd. 

Curiosity piqued — and unable to make her phone call — the woman wandered over to the 
man’s vehicle, a green Volkswagen van. She peered in the back, through the striped curtains, 
where she saw what looked like two large car batteries. She wrote down the van’s license plate 

number, WB6EWU, and went to speak to the gas station attendant. 

When she returned the phone booth was empty. The man was gone, along with his 
Volkswagen van. Nearby, a telephone company employee toiled, doing whatever it is that 
telephone company employees do. She walked over and told him about the rude man and his 
odd little box. 

Months earlier, in April 1971, British Columbia Telephone took a wrecking ball to the phone 
phreaks’ home on the network. In a bit of telephonic urban renewal, the old mechanical 
Vancouver step tandem — home to the 2111 conference — was replaced with a shiny new 4A 
crossbar toll switching machine. The old step tandem still existed but it was relegated to other, 
lesser duties. Unfortunately for the phreaks, the telephone company thoughtlessly failed to 
provide a phone phreak conference call setup in the new switching machine. 

The 21 1 1 conference really was something special. It was not the only conference circuit the 
phreaks had at their disposal but it was one of the best. It was easy to dial — you could use just 
a Cap’n Crunch whistle from many places — and it supported all the people they could pile on to 
it. In contrast, loop arounds were okay for meeting other phreaks but you could fit only two 
people on them, not much of a conference. Another conference bridge technique, pioneered by 
Joe Engressia, was something called an open sleeve-lead conference. This required either 
finding a miswired connection in a central office someplace or, more likely, fast-talking a 
telephone company switchman into miswiring such a connection for you. The former required 
luck; the latter, balls and skill. If you were particularly clever, you could engineer such a setup to 
be reached via an 800 number, creating a toll-free conference bridge that any phreak could dial 
into, whether or not he had a blue box. Bill Acker recalls setting up two of these, one in 
Charleston and one in Benton Harbor; the Charleston circuit supported up to seven people at 

The phreaks searched the nooks and crannies of the network for a conference that would be 
as good as 21 1 1 . They did this via the time-honored technique of scanning. Using a blue box, 
they would connect to a tandem somewhere and start exhaustively dialing all the three-digit 
codes between 000 and 199 — that is, the sequences that couldn’t be the start of normal 
telephone numbers — to see what they did. The network was a varied thing in those days, so 
codes that worked on a switching machine in San Francisco, say, might be quite different from 
those in Peoria. It was tedious work, but it was the kind of tedious work that phone phreaks 

One of the tandems they scanned was White Plains Tandem 2 in the 914 area code of New 
York. In that tandem the code 052 was a bit of an enigma; if you used your blue box to dial KP + 
914 + 052 + ST you’d be connected to something that gave you a short little beep — and nothing 
else. You knew you had reached something but nobody knew what. Pressing more keys on 
your blue box to feed it more MF digits didn’t get you anything. Multiple phreaks had played 
with it and couldn’t figure it out. It was the Sphinx of dial codes. 

Then in January 1972 a phone phreak named Ray Oklahoma!! cracked the 052 code. 
Oklahoma, an engineering student from Long Island who was studying at Oklahoma State, had 
been a phone phreak for about a year. He had been fascinated by the musical notes he heard 
on long-distance calls and, like others before him, soon found himself headed down the phone 
phreak rabbit hole. For some reason, Oklahoma tried something that the others hadn’t thought 
of: what if you connected to 052 and then sent it touch-tones instead of blue box tones? Bingo. 
Through a process of trial and error, Oklahoma figured out that 052 was actually an incredibly 
sophisticated conference bridge. Unlike 2111, this conference system allowed you to dial out. 
That is, you could dial in to 052 with your blue box and then, using touch tones, add other 
people to the conference by having the 052 conference system call them for you — for free! In 

fact, through an unintentional quirk, you could even use it to conference in people from 

ttThe pseudonym he went by at the time. 

The 2111 conference was back in business; its new name was 052. It quickly became 
popular, hosting more than a dozen phreaks at a time, including some from the United 

That very same week in January, Bill Acker — then a senior in high school — received an 
unwelcome visitor, a man the New York phone phreaks would come to know well: Thomas J. 
Duffy, a security agent for New York Telephone. Duffy was one of roughly 650 Bell System 
security agents nationwide, some 10 percent of whom were former FBI special agents. Blue 
and black boxes — what the phone company called electronic toll fraud — took up only a tiny 
fraction of the average security agent’s time. Mostly they focused on more common problems 
such as robberies and burglaries (a lot of people paid their phone bills in cash back in those 
days at telephone company customer service offices), coin telephone thefts, stolen vehicles, 
company car accidents, and even employee embezzlement. Where toll fraud was concerned, 
the vast majority were credit card and third number billing fraud. Still, Duffy seemed to be the 
security agent in the New York area assigned to electronic toll fraud cases, and, in particular, to 
dealing with the area’s pesky teenage phone hackers — a group that had expanded since the 
days when Bill Acker felt so alone. 

Acker wasn’t entirely surprised to hear from Duffy, since Duffy had already had a few 
interactions with Evan Doorbell, another Long Island phone phreak Acker knew. What did 
surprise Acker — and annoyed him too — was that Duffy actually showed up at his school to talk 
with him, instead of visiting him in the privacy of his home. As a result of Duffy’s visit, the 
officials and other kids at Acker’s school now knew he was in trouble. “That was very 
uncomfortable,” Acker recalls. “Which maybe was part of it, part of a ‘shock-and-awe’ 
approach” — an attempt to intimidate Acker and keep him off balance during their conversation. 

ttThe pseudonym he went by at the time. 

The shock-and-awe approach didn’t work out well for Duffy. “When Tom Duffy said, ‘We want 
to talk with you,’ I said the following thing: ‘I have the right to remain silent, and I wish to do so,”’ 
Acker remembers. Acker flat-out refused to talk to Duffy. 

“He wasn’t expecting that,” Acker says. After all, Duffy wasn’t law enforcement, and he wasn’t 
there to arrest Acker but just to get him to knock off his telephonic shenanigans. While he was 
at it, Duffy maybe figured he might be able to get some information on phone phreaking 
activities in the area. So why the silent treatment? “There was an element of ‘screw you,”’ Acker 
says. “‘Hey, you’re the telephone company, you’re the enemy, you don’t understand us 
phreaks.’” But there were two other things that made him keep his mouth shut. First, Acker says, 
“I knew I could talk to him as nicely as I wanted to, we could spend a couple of hours talking, 
but at the end of the day, ‘Cut it out, kid, or you’re gonna get arrested’ was going to be the 
message. I knew that that was where the conversation was going to end up.” 

More important, Acker says, was this: “He was a trained interrogator. He wasn’t law 
enforcement, but he was a security guy, that’s what he did for a living. I was a kid. I couldn’t 
guarantee that if we started talking I wouldn’t let slip something about somebody else 
inadvertently. I didn’t expect to be a match for him if he really was a good interrogator.” Given 
his strong feelings about never squealing on another phreak, Acker says, “I just figured, ‘Don’t 
talk to him at all.’” 

The right-to-remain-silent approach didn’t work out well for Acker. “That really pissed him off 
badly,” Acker remembers. The very next day, while Acker was still in school, Duffy drove to 
Acker’s house, met with his mother, and drove off with Acker’s most cherished possession: his 
blue box. 

The busybody woman at the gas station in Sunnyvale was just the break the General 
Telephone security department had been hoping for. 

“On several occasions during the year 1971,” read an April 1972 memorandum from a senior 
special agent with General Telephone security, “information was received from the Security 
Department of British Columbia Telephone Company, Vancouver, Canada, that their long-lines 
department was observing illegal entry by parties dialing and multi-frequencing [sic] from points 
in the United States into their toll switching system and returning back to points in the United 
States.” This was, of course, exactly what the Esquire phreaks had been using 21 1 1 for back 
before it was a conference call, back when it still had a dial tone on it; they’d whistle into British 
Columbia via 21 1 1 , get a dial tone, and dial out again. 

“Line traces were made,” continued the memo, “and a number of them showed that some of 
the parties came through switching machines in the San Jose, California area. On 4/17/71, a 
new 4-A Type toll switcher was placed into service in Vancouver. During this cutover it was 
observed that a conference call of several hours duration was set up illegally, and a recording 
of a portion of this conference call was made.” BC Tel sent a copy of this tape to General 
Telephone security. It was apparent that “one or more parties on the call were located in Los 
Gatos, California, served by Western California Telephone Company, a part of the General 

When General Telephone security received the report from the busybody woman about the 
rude man with the box that made strange noises, agents ran the license plate number she’d 
given them through the Department of Motor Vehicles — something anyone could do back in 
those more innocent days. The registrant turned out to live at 16382 Robie Lane, Los Gatos. 
His name? John Thomas Draper. “In exchanging information between security departments 
throughout the United States and Canada,” the memo noted, “the names John Draper and 
Captain Crunch were associated on a number of occasions in matters pertaining to fraudulent 
use of multi-frequency signaling.” 

“A night time line observation was made” — GT’s euphemism for a tap-and-tape recording 
setup. One night’s worth of recordings of Draper’s home telephone line on March 27, 1972, 
netted “evidence of numerous attempts and completions of calls using multi-frequency 
signaling to points in California and to Sidney, Australia.” 

Draper had just finished up a nice long conference call with the other phreaks on 052 when his 
telephone rang. 

The caller was an anonymous telephone company employee, a switchman at White Plains 
Tandem 2. He was calling to deliver an urgent message. They’re monitoring this thing really, 
really closely, the switchman told Draper. They’re recording everything. They’re watching what 
you dial. You guys need to be careful about this. Bill Acker observed later that the switchman 
“stuck his neck out about a hundred and fifty miles” to deliver that warning. 

While the call proved that not everyone in the phone company had it in for the phone 
phreaks, Acker and New York Telephone security agent Tom Duffy continued their cat-and- 
mouse games. Acker’s ability to play with the network had been curtailed when Duffy took 
away his blue box; in particular, Acker needed it to call into the 052 conference. But Acker soon 
discovered a workaround. Due to a bug in his phone company’s central office, Acker found he 
was able to dial a telephone number like 914 052 1211 and the switch would connect him — 
sometimes — to the 052 system. He could then use his touch-tone phone to control the 
conference, no blue box needed. It would have been better to have a blue box, to be sure, but 
this wasn’t bad. 

That April, Tom Duffy made another trip to Acker’s house. This time he ripped out Acker’s 
touch-tone phone, replacing it with a rotary dial one. Acker was aghast. “Rotary dial!” he wailed, 

but Acker’s mom was actually kind of pleased. “She could never understand why anyone would 
want to push buttons when God intended us to spin a dial,” he says. 

It was May 4, 1972. Draper was in his VW van in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven in Los Gatos 
when the alarm bells began ringing in his reptilian hindbrain: the cars pulling up around him 
were predators. He wrestled with his fight-or-flight instinct for a moment, but neither option 
seemed like a smart move. He had no way to fight and a high-speed car chase pitting his 
Volkswagen bus against police cruisers seemed like a losing proposition. 

Plan C, then. Draper got out of his van, walked around behind it, and — unobserved, he 
hoped — started dumping the contents of his pockets on the ground, ridding himself of 
incriminating electronics. The last item was a small magnet, which he stuck on the rear of his 
van. The magnet was a clever security precaution, used to activate a tiny magnetic relay inside 
his blue box. Draper’s box would not emit even the slightest peep unless he held the magnet 
up against it in just the right place. The idea was that if a cop ever stopped him and started 
messing with his blue box, the box simply wouldn’t work. 

Plan C’s execution did not go unobserved. The arresting FBI agents recovered every single 
item Draper had dumped, magnet and all. Their haul included Draper’s blue box and a cassette 
tape containing “numerous multi-frequency signals representing telephone numbers in 
California and other states within the continental United States; inward operator route codes for 
all area codes within the United States; route codes to overseas sender points, foreign country 
codes, and foreign operator route codes.” Between each series of numbers on the tape was a 
Morse code sequence identifying the person or place the tones were used for. The FBI also 
searched his van and, later that day, his apartment. 

Draper was arrested for seven counts of violating 18 USC 1343, the Fraud by Wire statute, 
for making blue box calls to Australia, New York, and Oklahoma. The feds knew they were on 
solid legal ground using Fraud by Wire now, thanks to the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the 
bookies’ blue box appeal under this law back in 1969. Draper was arraigned and released on 
his own recognizance the same day. On June 12, he appeared before U.S. District Court judge 
Robert F. Peckham and entered a plea of “not guilty.” Not long afterward his attorney filed a 
motion to suppress the evidence. Captain Crunch was apparently not going to give up the ship 
without a fight. 

The newspaper coverage of Draper’s bust increased his fame from both the Esquire article 
and the Maureen Orth article, boosting his ego and status as a counterculture icon. The San 
Francisco Chronicle described him as a “contemporary folk hero,” an “overgrown, 
misunderstood kid with the mind of a genius” — though they also noted that he was “shy, shifty 
eyed, and slightly myopic.” Both of the big newswires of the day, Associated Press and United 
Press International, covered the story and their copy appeared in smaller newspapers across 
the country. UPI described him as an “electronics whiz” and played up the Cap’n Crunch 
whistle angle. 

The same month that Draper entered his not guilty plea, a magazine article appeared with an 
intriguing title: “Regulating the Phone Company in Your Own Home.” According to its editorial 
lead, the article showed how “practically anyone who can change the plug on an electric 
toaster — using only a screwdriver, a kitchen knife, and four dollars’ worth of readily available 
electric parts — can build in two or three hours a simple device capable of evading charges on 
long distance telephone calls.” It explained to its readers how to build a black box, also known 
as a “mute,” and its author was Ray Oklahoma, the discoverer of the 052 conference. 

Now, it would be one thing if this article was to appear in YIPL or some obscure underground 
newspaper. But this was slated for publication in the June issue of Ramparts, the darling 
magazine of the New Left, circulation 100,000. Ramparts was unique among lefty publications 

for bridging the gap to the non-hippie-Yippie set. “It expressed radical left values in a way 
mainstream people could understand,” said a former editor. It even did do it with style. It was 
printed on “heavy, shiny stock with classy graphics that looked good on a Danish Modern 
coffee table.” In a few short years the magazine developed a scrappy reputation for railing 
against the Vietnam War and clashing with the Central Intelligence Agency, the National 
Security Agency, and the U.S. military. Its writers were talented and its reporting newsworthy; 
follow-on coverage of Ramparts articles by mainstream newspapers, even the august New 
York Times, was common. 

AT&T usually had to react to the publication of phone phreak articles after the fact. With the 
Esquire article, for example, the phone company had no clue it was coming until it hit the 
newsstands, and then it had to scramble and figure out what to do. But this time the phone 
company caught a lucky break. Ramparts’ contract printer in Milwaukee, perhaps worried about 
enraging Ma Bell, sent an advance copy of the June issue to the phone company. 

The phone company was not amused. The friendly illustrations and reassuring text in 
Oklahoma’s three-page article — “do not be intimidated by the spaghetti dish of wiring you see, 
only a small, identifiable portion concerns you” — enabled anyone to build a black box and 
receive long-distance calls without the caller being billed. The Esquire article may have 
inspired a generation of phone phreaks but at least it didn’t give step-by-step instructions to all 
the world on how to make free calls with just a few dollars of easy-to-get components. 
Ramparts did. 

This could not be allowed to happen. 

AT&T chose its battleground wisely: California. Ramparts was headquartered in California 
but, more important, California had something that other states did not: section 502.7 of the 
California Penal Code. Added to California law in the early sixties, 502.7 made most 
telephone-related shenanigans illegal in the Golden State. But in 1965 telephone company 
lobbyists managed to get its scope dramatically expanded and the new 502.7 made it a crime 
to sell — or even give away — “plans or instructions” for any device that could be used to steal 
telephone service. And what was Ray Oklahoma’s article if not plans or instructions? 

The timing was tight. On May 12, after the June issue of Ramparts had been mailed out to 
subscribers and shipped to distributors but before it had hit the newsstands, Pacific Telephone 
contacted the magazine and its middlemen. The tone was polite but the company’s demands 
were firm. To start with, Ramparts must recall its June issue or face civil and criminal charges, 
up to felony conspiracy charges for the magazine’s editors. In addition, the magazine’s editors 
reported later, “Telephone Company attorneys demanded that the copyright of the ‘phone 
phreak’ article be assigned to the Bell System so that they could prosecute underground or 
other publications that might reprint it; that the film and plates from which the article had been 
printed be delivered up; and that Ramparts agree never to print a similar article in the future.” 
Finally, Pacific Telephone requested the Ramparts subscriber list “so that they could place 
those who had received our June issue under surveillance.” 

“In the past ten years,” wrote its editors, ‘Ramparts has incurred the wrath of power in many 
forms.” From Ramparts’ perspective, regardless of what California law might say, this was a 
clear violation of the First Amendment, an affront to all that journalists held holy. It was prior 
restraint on a supposedly free press, an unacceptable tactic that the government had tried and 
failed to impose just a few years ago when the New York Times was set to print the Pentagon 
Papers — and that case was actually a matter of national security. In this case, it was just the 
telephone company whining. Ramparts’ entire history and radical ethos had primed it for this 

And yet it caved. As its editors explained later, “We were willing to have the matter go to court 

. . . But the Bell System had hostages we had to consider. Their attorneys indicated that the 
whole network handling Ramparts was also vulnerable to civil and criminal charges. That 
meant that the over 500 wholesalers and thousands of retailers distributing the magazine could 
also be prosecuted. It was clear from our conversations that the largest corporation in the world 
lacked neither the will nor the resources to do it. To protect this distribution network, the 
lifeblood of this and other publications, we agreed to recall our issue.” 

The result was that some ninety thousand copies of the June issue never made it to 
newsstands or were withdrawn once they reached them; the roughly sixty thousand that had 
already been mailed to subscribers were unaffected. Ramparts’ editors estimated the costs of 
the recall, including uncollectible advertising revenues, at almost $60,000. 

“Within a week,” its editors concluded, “American Telephone and Telegraph had achieved 
what the CIA, Pentagon, FBI and other targets of Ramparts’ journalism over the last ten years 
hadn’t been able to bring about: the nationwide suppression of this magazine.” 

Oddly enough, the 052 conference disappeared just about the time the Ramparts issue came 
out. As it turned out, the reason 052 had made such a great conference system was that it 
actually was a conference system, one intended for use by AT&T corporate executives. The 
suits at AT&T were less than amused at its appropriation by the phone phreaks, and telephone 
company security had been monitoring the phone phreak conferences on 052 since February. 

Ray Oklahoma disappeared just about the time the Ramparts issue came out too; he was 
arrested by the FBI in Oklahoma City for Fraud by Wire and spent eleven days in jail before his 
father was able to come and bail him out. The charges were all related to using a blue box to 
call the 052 conference, he remembers. “As far as I know,” he says, “they didn’t know I had 
anything to do with the Ramparts article.” Fie pleaded guilty and was given five years’ 
probation. Fie also agreed to write an open letter to other phone phreaks discouraging them 
from the hobby. Flis letter ran in an Oklahoma newspaper and concluded with: “I know it looks 
easy but you will get caught. Look at me. My college days are ruined at least for now. I have lost 
money on bond and other expenses. Plus the anxiety and fear. I hope you don’t make the same 
mistake. I can only hope you [. . .] don’t do as I have done because I am sorry.” 

As the summer wore on, and phone phreaks and conference call setups were disappearing 
and people were being arrested, it seemed high time to take a vacation. National Airlines had 
been running a series of controversial television ads featuring attractive stewardesses in 
revealing minidresses saying things like, “Hi ! I’m Tammy! Fly me to Miami and back with a 
stopover for only $1 00!” Miami was a good choice of destination in 1 972. The Republicans and 
Democrats both had decided to host their national conventions in Miami Beach that summer — 
the Dems in July, the Republicans in August. Abbie Floffman’s Youth International Party seized 
the moment by hosting a pair of events in Miami on the same dates; true to form, the Yippie 
events would be part protest, part theater, part smoke-in. The publicity poster for the Yippie 
gatherings featured a hairy-legged Hoffman in a minidress in midflight, having just leapt into the 
air. The caption read, “High! I’m Abbie, fly me to Miami.” 

Unable to help itself, the front page of YIPL’s June-July 1972 issue sported a cartoon 
telephone with wings proclaiming, “Hi, I’m Telly! Fly Me to Miami!” The Youth International 
Party Line capitalized on the Yippie gathering by announcing that the World’s First Phone 
Phreak Convention would be held July 11-15 in Miami Beach. “The Celebration of Change will 
include, in addition, teach-ins on telephones, contests, meetings with nationally known phone 
phreaks,” the newsletter reported. “Plus the unveiling of new devices never yet revealed. 
Courses are going to be held on Phone Politics, Phone rip-offs, establishment rip-offs, and 
peoples technology. [. . .] At the same time there will be other events too, such as antiwar 
demos, women’s rights, health care, anti-smack information and actions, and many other 


The YIPL issue reprinted a simplified version of the Ray Oklahoma article from Ramparts and 
concluded with an appeal to “Support Captain Crunch!” “As some of you might know from a 
recent Rolling Stone article, the FBI and the phone co. has arrested the supposed Cap’n 
Crunch of Blue Box fame for allegedly making a few Box calls. We are now setting up the 
Cap’n Crunch Defense Fund, for the benefit of such obviously political telephone busts. The 
money will go for support of those harassed and busted for phone co. specials, and for legal 
and bail fees. Please contribute what you can, it might be you next.” 

John Draper had to attend the World’s First Phone Phreak Convention. How could he not? 
Thanks to the Esquire article and the publicity from his recent bust, he was probably the best- 
known phreak in the world at the time — more famous even than Joe Engressia, the man 
Esquire had dubbed the granddaddy of phone phreaking. Draper would enjoy the publicity and 
adulation he would receive at the conference; he always enjoyed being in the limelight. And 
afterward he would head up to New York City and visit Bill Acker, who was taking classes and 
staying at a YMCA in Queens. It would be a nice little vacation from his legal troubles. 

Draper boarded a flight from San Francisco to Miami and, as his plane took off and banked 
toward the beaches of Florida, his legal troubles multiplied. Draper had overlooked one sniggly 
little detail. The terms of his release after his arrest required him to obtain the court’s permission 
if he wanted to leave the San Francisco Bay Area, and this he did not do. John Draper didn’t 
know it yet but he was now officially a fugitive. 

An informant brought Draper’s departure to the attention of the FBI a few days later. The FBI 
and an assistant U.S. attorney wasted no time in appearing before Judge Peckham, who 
immediately revoked Draper’s recognizance bond and issued a bench warrant for his arrest on 
July 11. That very afternoon FBI agents raided Draper’s Miami hotel room but missed him by 
scant hours. Unbeknownst to them, the phone phreak convention had been postponed and was 
now to be held in New York City later that month. Draper had already left for the airport, a 
witness told them, carrying — naturally enough — “a tape-recorder and a brown valise with wires 
protruding from the top.” 

FBI agents caught up with Draper the next day in New York City, arresting him at the YMCA 
in Queens where Bill Acker was staying. Appropriately, Draper was talking on the hallway pay 
phone when the FBI agents found him, his trusty tape recorder perched atop the pay phone and 
loaded with another cassette of blue box tones. Unable to come up with $10,000 bail, Draper 
spent the next several days in the care of the United States marshal service until he was flown 
back to California to appear before Judge Peckham. Peckham denied Draper’s motion to 
suppress the evidence for his California bust and set a date for trial. 

Despite the absence of its headliner, the World’s First Phone Phreak Convention took place 
in New York City on July 29, 1972. The phreaks congregated in the basement ballroom of the 
Hotel Diplomat, a Times Square hotel that was developing a reputation for hosting rock ’n’ roll 
shows and fringe political gatherings — Yippies, Communists, and Libertarians all had held 
conventions there. Alan Fierstein (“Al Bell”) of YIPL was the master of ceremonies, presiding 
over attractions that included a black-and-white film showing three simple ways to make free 
phone calls from pay telephones, a presentation on the black box for receiving free calls, and 
breakout sessions on building answering machines and blue boxes. Yippie founder Abbie 
Hoffman led a workshop on the legality of phone phreaking and exhorted the attendees to 
support the Captain Crunch defense fund. A spy from New York Telephone later reported to the 
FBI that some seventy-five people were in attendance. 

The telephone company and the FBI continued their stepped-up enforcement efforts as 
summer turned to fall. About a week after Labor Day, on September 12, 1972, the FBI 

conducted a series of raids across the country. Over the course of three days agents arrested 
fourteen people in eight cities, including Minneapolis, Dallas, Houston, and Memphis, charging 
them with manufacturing, selling, and using blue boxes. But here was the interesting thing: they 
weren’t phone phreaks, or even bookies or hippies. This time the people arrested were all 
upstanding members of society, including real estate agents, stock brokers, two executives with 
a vending company, and the president of an air freight firm. A subsequent news release from 
AT&T described it as follows: “Cheat Ma Bell! Rip-off the phone company! Beat the system! 
Popular phrases like these were quite fashionable not so very long ago. Just about everyone 
attributed them to well-known anti-establishment types, to the New Left, and to the self-styled 
phone phreaks.” It went on to note, “The 14 persons [arrested] were not those type-cast as the 
rip-off set. Rather, they were ordinary middle to upper-middle class Americans. Everyone 
seemed to be getting into the act. While the arrests pointed out that toll fraud is geographically 
as well as socially and economically wide spread, another more important fact became crystal 
clear — the Bell System was cracking down on the problem which had reached epidemic 
proportions. [. . .] Some people who wouldn’t dream of stealing from a candy store seem more 
than willing to commit theft by wire.” 

“For years,” the release continued, “Bell System companies were quite lenient with persons 
who committed toll fraud. Whenever possible, the company would first attempt to stop the calls, 
collect on them, and stay out of court. But that was before more than $20 million per year was 
being lost. Overnight, it would seem that the lamb has turned into the lion. Today, the Bell 
System is a vigorous — and successful — prosecutor.” 

True enough. By the end of 1972 AT&T was on track to chalk up a total of fifty-seven 
electronic toll fraud arrests. The numbers might look even better if the company could convict 
Captain Crunch before the end of the year. That wasn’t looking like too much of a stretch. 
Despite Abbie Hoffman’s best fund-raising efforts, the Captain Crunch defense fund failed 
miserably, netting a total of $1 . Unable to continue to pay for a private attorney, Draper would 
have to be represented by the public defender’s office. 

Draper’s trial was November 29, 1972. Of thirty-three prospective jurors, two were named 
Bell. “Don’t think that didn’t give us pause,” one of Draper’s attorneys remarked later. The 
evidence against Draper was extensive. First there were the tape recordings of his illegal 
telephone calls. Then there was the expert witness testimony from telephone company security 
agents. And there were the friends he’d called who would testify that it was indeed Draper who 
had made the phone calls, and even that Draper was indeed the infamous Captain Crunch. It 
wasn’t so much that Draper’s friends were rats; it was more that they had little choice. Before 
trial the FBI had tracked down and interviewed some of the people who Draper had called. In 
each case the FBI asked if they remembered receiving any calls from Draper. Not surprisingly, 
most people suffered sudden attacks of amnesia and were unable to remember anything. The 
FBI would then play a tape recording of the call, with Draper and the person’s voice clearly 
audible. In most cases the person would then agree that his “recollection had been refreshed” 
and that now he did, in fact, remember receiving such a call. The FBI agents would then hand 
their new witness a subpoena to testify at trial. 

“Draper didn’t look very legendary as he stood with his head bowed while the prosecution 
offered its overwhelming evidence gathered by investigations from San Francisco to Sydney,” 
wrote the reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle. Outgunned, Captain Crunch gave up the 
ship, changing his plea from “not guilty” to “no contest.” The judge sentenced him to a one-year 
suspended sentence, a $1 ,000 fine, and five years’ probation, during which he was required to 
“refrain from illegal use of the telephone or other electronics devices for fraudulent means.” As 
part of the plea deal, all but the first of the seven counts against him — the one charging him with 

an illegal call to a radio station in Sydney, Australia — were dismissed. In essence, Draper 
would pay $1 ,000 for a two-minute overseas call. 

Judge Peckham concluded Draper’s sentence with a promise of sorts: “Your electronic 
gymnastics may have been thought to be a prank, a frivolity, or a harmless vocational 
endeavor, but on the next occasion — if there ever is one — you will receive a prison sentence.” 

If only Draper had heeded the good judge’s warning. 



Like the flap of a butterfly’s wings causing a hurricane half a world away, the ripples of 
unintended consequences from Ron Rosenbaum’s “Secrets of the Little Blue Box” continued to 
spread. “You know how some articles just grab you from the first paragraph? Well, it was one of 
those articles,” Steve Wozniak recalls. “It was the most amazing article I’d ever read!” 

Wozniak happened to pick up a copy of Esquire from his mother’s kitchen table the day 
before starting classes at Berkeley in the fall of 1971. Rosenbaum’s article “described a whole 
web of people who were doing this: the phone phreaks. They were anonymous technical 
people who went by fake names and lived all over the place,” he recalls, how they were 
“outsmarting phone companies and setting up networks that nobody imagined existed.” It 
seemed unbelievable. And yet, he says, “I kept reading it over and over, and the more I read it, 
the more possible and real it sounded.” 

Oddly enough, part of what made the article seem so real to him were the characters. Despite 
their fanciful nature and funny names, Wozniak remembers, “I could tell that the characters 
being described were really tech people, much like me, people who liked to design things just 
to see what was possible, and for no other reason, really.” There was something about the 
whole thing that just rang true, despite how crazy it seemed. “The idea of the Blue Box just 
amazed me,” he says. The article even gave a few of the frequencies it used. As for Joe 
Engressia being able to whistle free calls? “I couldn’t believe this was possible, but there it was 
and, wow, it just made my imagination run wild.” 

The twenty-year-old Wozniak put down the magazine. He picked up the phone and called his 
friend Steve Jobs — then a seventeen-year-old senior in high school — to tell him about it. Less 
than an hour later the duo were on their way to raid the library at the Stanford Linear 
Accelerator Center. SLAC was the atom smasher at Stanford University. It had a great technical 
library, Wozniak says, and he had a long history of sneaking into it to look stuff up. “If there was 
any place that had a phone manual that listed tone frequencies,” he says, it would be SLAC. 

The two dug through the reference books and before long they struck pay dirt: an 
international telephone technical standard that listed the MF frequencies. “I froze and grabbed 
Steve and nearly screamed in excitement that I’d found it. We both stared at the list, rushing 
with adrenaline. We kept saying things like ‘Oh, shit!’ and ‘Wow, this thing is for real!’ I was 
practically shaking, with goose bumps and everything. It was such a Eureka moment. We 
couldn’t stop talking all the way home. We were so excited. We knew we could build this thing. 
We now had the formula we needed! And definitely that article was for real.” Jobs agrees: “We 
kept saying to ourselves, ‘It’s real. Holy shit, it’s real.’” 

That very day Wozniak and Jobs purchased analog tone generator kits from a local 
electronics store; this was the Silicon Valley in 1971, after all, and such things were easily 

available. Later that night they had managed to record pairs of tones on cassette tape, enough 
to make a blue box call. But it didn’t quite work. They were able to disconnect a call to 555- 
1212 with 2,600 Hz — they heard the kerchink! of the trunk — but their MF tone tape recordings 
didn’t do anything. They worked late into the night trying to figure out what was wrong. In the 
end Wozniak concluded that the tone generator just wasn’t good enough to make the telephone 
network dance to his tunes. 

Wozniak started classes at Berkeley the next day. But he couldn’t get his mind off of blue 
boxes and phone phreaking. “I started posting articles I found about [phone phreaks] on my 
dorm room wall. I started telling my friends what these phone phreaks were all about, how 
intelligent they must be, and how I was sure they were starting to take over the phone system 
all over the country,” he says. 

He thought more about the analog blue box that he and Jobs had tried to build. The problem 
with analog circuits is that they are imprecise. This is because the components they are 
constructed with — resistors and capacitors and inductors and such — are themselves inexact. 
For example, if you want an analog circuit to generate a tone at a particular frequency, as you 
would for a blue box, you might need a resistor of 1000 ohms and a capacitor of 0.1 
microfarads. Unfortunately, when you buy a resistor, you can’t get one that is exactly 1000 
ohms; rather, it is guaranteed to be only within 10 percent of that value. If you want to spend 
more money, you can get ones that are more accurate — ones whose values vary by only 5 
percent or even 1 percent — but there is always some inaccuracy in the individual components. 
When you combine them to build a circuit the inaccuracies often compound. Worse, the 
component values vary with temperature. So you might spend time tuning your blue box in the 
warmth of your dorm room and get it all working and then go out to a pay phone in the cold 
night air only to find that it doesn’t work anymore. 

Steve Wozniak had been designing electrical circuits for years; just a year earlier he had 
designed his own tiny computer, the “Cream Soda Computer,” so named because he and a 
friend drank tons of cream soda while they were building it. Computers are made out of digital 
circuits, circuits that deal with Is and 0s rather than the full range of values that analog circuits 
can handle. While this may seem like a limitation, it gives digital circuits a huge advantage. 
Digital circuits are exact and their building block components don’t vary from one to another, 
nor do they vary with temperature. With this in mind Wozniak started thinking about how to build 
a digital blue box, which would be made up of the chips used to build computers, not analog 
components such as resistors and capacitors and transistor oscillators. It would use a quartz 
crystal, like those used in the then newfangled digital watches, for ultimate accuracy and rock- 
solid stability. 

By early 1 972 Woz had his design worked out. Even more than the fact that it was digital, he 
was particularly proud of a clever trick he used to keep the power consumption down so the 
battery would last longer. “I swear to this day,” says the man who would one day design the 
revolutionary Apple I and Apple II computers, “I have never designed a circuit I was prouder of.” 
It took a day to build. When he and the other Steve tested it, it worked the first time. 

Finally they had joined the ranks of phone phreaks. Woz adopted the phone phreak handle 
“Berkeley Blue” while Jobs became “Oaf Tobar.” “I would have died to meet Captain Crunch, 
who was really the center of it all. Or any phone phreak; it just seemed so impossible that I’d 
ever meet anyone else with a blue box,” Wozniak says. But through a happy coincidence 
involving a friend from high school they tracked down the Captain at radio station KKUP in 
Cupertino. They arranged for Draper to meet them in Woz’s dorm room at Berkeley. 

Woz recalls the fateful meeting. “Captain Crunch comes to our door, and it turns out he’s just 
this really weird-looking guy. Here, I thought, would be a guy who would look and act just far 

away and above any engineer in the world, but there he was: sloppy-looking, with his hair kind 
of hanging down on one side. And he smelled like he hadn’t taken a shower in two weeks, 
which turned out to be true. He was also missing a bunch of teeth.” 

Hoping against hope, Woz asked his visitor if he was indeed Captain Crunch. 

“I am he,” was Crunch’s reply. 

“He turned out to be this really strange, funny guy, just bubbling over with energy,” Woz says, 
“one of these very hyper people who keep changing topics and jumping around . . 

Draper and Woz and Jobs and a few friends spent the next several hours trading blue boxing 
techniques and circuit designs; Woz was particularly pleased that Draper taught him how to call 
overseas using a blue box. They continued the conversation over pizza until about midnight 
when they went their separate ways. The two Steves got in Jobs’s car and began the hour-long 
drive from Berkeley to Jobs’s home in Los Altos. 

About halfway home their car suffered a complete electrical failure. They managed to pull 
over and the two walked to a gas station, where they tried to use their blue box to call Draper 
and ask him to rescue them. But for some reason the blue box call wouldn’t go through. Worse, 
the operator came back on the line. They hung up and tried several more times but it just 
wouldn’t work. They started to worry that their blue box had been detected. 

“All of a sudden,” Woz recalls, “a cop pulled into the gas station and jumped out real fast. 
Steve was still holding the blue box when he jumped out, that’s how fast it happened. We didn’t 
even have time to hide it. We were sure that the operator had called the cops on us, and that 
this was the end for sure.” 

The cop and his partner spent some time rooting through the bushes, presumably looking for 
drugs that the two hippies had stashed; “I had long hair and a headband back then,” Woz 
remembers. Finding no drugs, the cops turned their attention to the blue box. What was it, they 
wanted to know? It was an electronic music synthesizer, Wozniak said. He gave a demo of a 
few tones. What’s the orange button for, the cops asked? Unfortunately for their story, the 
orange button was the one that generated 2,600 Hz and it didn’t sound very musical. 
“Calibration,” Jobs replied. 

Woz and Jobs explained that their car had broken down. The cops told them to get in the 
back of their patrol car and they would go “check out the car story.” As Woz put it, “In the back 
seat of a cop car, you know where you’re going eventually: to jail.” As the cop car pulled out, 
one of the police officers handed Woz back his electronic synthesizer. “A guy named Moog 
beat you to it,” he said. Apparently the two Steves weren’t going to jail after all. 

It wasn’t long before the more business savvy of the duo smelled an opportunity: selling blue 
boxes. “Steve Jobs suggested we could sell it for $170 or so, he came up with the price pretty 
early in there,” Wozniak recalls. Before long the two were peddling blue boxes in the dorms at 
Berkeley. Their sales technique was inspired. They would knock on random dorm room doors 
and ask for an imaginary person with a made-up name. When the confused occupant would 
respond “Who?” they would say, “You know, the guy who makes all the free phone calls.” 
Depending on the occupant’s reaction they might add, “You know, he has the blue boxes.” If the 
person they were talking to lit up and got excited, they knew they had a solid sales prospect 
who wasn’t likely to turn them in. 

In addition to going door to door they had another sales channel through a random phone 
phreak acquaintance in Los Angeles. Wozniak and Jobs had dialed into a loop-around circuit 
in southern California one day and found themselves talking to a young teenager named Adam 
Schoolsky. Their friendship blossomed. Schoolsky, better known as Johnny Bagel in Los 
Angeles phone phreak circles, had been introduced to the hobby by LA phreak Al Diamond 
and his telephone joke lines. As it happened, Schoolsky had an older friend who was well 

connected in Hollywood. Through this connection — and Schoolsky’s help in assembling and 
manufacturing the boxes — Jobs and Wozniak found themselves handling a couple of “quantity 
orders,” that is, orders for perhaps ten boxes at a time. Many of these wound up in the hands of 
various Hollywood stars and glitterati. 

“Sales went on through the summer,” Wozniak recalls, but eventually they dwindled off. He 
had a job at Hewlett-Packard and it took a lot of time to build a box, Woz says — it worked out to 
a “low paid salary.” That fall Jobs started at Reed College and lost interest in the business. In 
all, Wozniak guesses, they sold maybe thirty or forty boxes; Jobs remembers it as more like a 

Every blue box that Woz made and sold came with a unique guarantee: a small piece of 
paper was tucked inside the box and bore the words, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” If 
one of his boxes ever failed to work and it came back to him with the little note inside, he would 
repair it, free of charge. Offering a guarantee on an illegal product in such a quirky way 
appealed to Wozniak’s sense of humor. “It’s kind of strange in itself, it’s kind of unusual, but I 
felt it was worth the joke,” he says. 

Between 1973 and 1975 several of Oaf Tobar and Berkeley Blue’s customers were caught 
red-handed with their blue boxes. The boxes wound up at the FBI Laboratory where they were 
disassembled and analyzed. On the whole, the FBI has never been known for its sense of 
humor. In each case, Woz’s little bit of paper with its inscription — sometimes handwritten, 
sometimes typed — was carefully noted in the FBI’s report and photographs. The feds knew that 
this tied the boxes together in some way, but fortunately for Woz and Jobs — and perhaps for the 
rest of the world — the FBI never linked the blue boxes to the two of them. 

Like most phone phreaks, Woz spent time exploring the network, using his blue box to figure 
out how the telephone system worked. But he soon found another use for it: pranks. 

Wozniak had always loved pranks, especially clever, high-tech ones. For example, his first 
year in college he built a small circuit that jammed televisions, which he would use to annoy his 
dormmates by surreptitiously messing with the reception on their shared TV set. When the TV 
went fuzzy, eventually one of the people in the room could be counted upon to get up and try to 
fix things. That era’s TV sets had adjustment controls for fine tuning that you could fiddle with, 
and many TVs had rabbit ear antennas whose reception could vary quite a bit depending on 
how the antenna was oriented and where people and other objects were in the room. As soon 
as his victim was in an awkward position — say, with his hand directly in front of the TV screen 
— Wozniak would stop jamming the signal and the picture would clear up. The other students 
would shout at the victim to hold that position since the TV apparently liked it that way. Woz 
recalls one evening’s particularly successful jamming prank: “The dozen or so students stayed 
for the second half hour of Mission Impossible with the guy’s hand over the middle of the TV!” 
Later, when Steve Jobs was graduating from high school, Woz and Jobs and a friend worked 
hard on a graduation present for Homestead High School. It was a large banner featuring a 
middle-finger salute with the words “Best Wishes”; the idea was that it would be unrolled 
dramatically and anonymously during the graduation ceremony. Sadly, another student 
discovered it and it was taken down before it could be unfurled. 

His blue box, Wozniak realized, had great potential for practical jokes. For reasons he can’t 
quite recall he got it in his head one day that they should try calling the pope. Using his blue 
box he managed to route his call to the Vatican. “In this heavy accent I announced that I was 
Henry Kissinger calling on behalf of President Nixon. I said, ‘Ve are at de summit meeting in 
Moscow, and we need to talk to de pope.’” The Vatican responded that the pope was sleeping 
but that they would send someone to wake him. Woz arranged to call back in an hour. 

Woz recalls, “Well, an hour later I called back and she said, ‘Okay, we will put the bishop on, 

who will be the translator.’ So I told him, still in that heavy accent, ‘Dees is Mr. Kissinger.’ And 
he said, ‘Listen, I just spoke to Mr. Kissinger an hour ago.’ You see, they had checked out my 
story and had called the real Kissinger in Moscow.” 

Of course, Wozniak wasn’t the only phone phreak with a love of pranks. Charlie Pyne and 
company at Harvard had used their blue box to try to reach the president of Mexico at two 
o’clock in the morning on a similar lark some ten years earlier. As suggested by the slightly 
misspelled Spanish in the Fine Arts 13 classified ad of the Harvard Crimson — “El presidente no 
esta aqui asora; que lastima” — they did not succeed. But the phone phreak prank that 
generated the most publicity and consternation occurred on November 10, 1974. Readers of 
the next day’s Los Angeles Times were introduced to the gag via the reassuring headline, 
“Santa Barbara Is Still OK; A-Blast Report Just Hoax.” Callers to Santa Barbara, California, the 
day before received no such reassurance. Rather, people calling in to Santa Barbara from out 
of town found their calls routed to someone who identified themselves either as an emergency 
operator or as a Marine Corps officer. In either case, the caller was told, “There has been a 
nuclear explosion in Santa Barbara and all the telephone lines are out.” The prank lasted for 
only thirty minutes, reported the Times, “but the effects continued throughout the day, with 
alarmed calls to General Telephone Co. and to Santa Barbara police from as far away as 
Florida and Alaska, demanding details of the ‘tragedy’ and asking, in some cases, if World War 
III had begun.” 

This horrifying prank was the work of a pair of Los Angeles- area phone phreaks. The hack 
they used to pull it off was the result of a bug that the phone company called “simultaneous 
seizure”; it could be exploited in a couple of different ways. One way involved old-school step- 
by-step switching equipment, which was still quite prevalent in the telephone network of the 
1 970s. Linder the right conditions, if two separate calls were made simultaneously, step-by-step 
equipment could become jammed partway through dialing the calls. In essence, two different 
sets of switching equipment in the central office would both attempt to seize the same circuit at 
the same time, hence the term. The upshot was that the two calls would be inadvertently 
connected. This was an extremely rare occurrence — the conditions had to be just right and, 
after all, very few things truly occur simultaneously in this world. When it did happen, it wasn’t 
that big a deal. The two callers would be surprised to find themselves connected — halfway 
through dialing a number — to somebody they didn’t call; they would curse the phone company 
and its incompetence and then both would hang up and try again. The system would reset and 
all would be well. 

But what if one of the people didn’t hang up? 

Because of a quirk in the step-by-step switching system, the person who didn’t hang up 
would be left in limbo, the call halfway complete. And there the call would stay, until eventually 
some new call would come in and attempt to seize the circuit in use by the first call. Once 
again, the two calls would be connected. How long it took for this to happen depended on 
exactly where in the switch the call failed and how many other calls needed to go through that 
portion of the switching equipment. 

And though it’s true that most things don’t occur simultaneously in nature, sometimes you can 
stack the deck in your favor. What if, for example, you had two telephone lines and connected 
them both to the same rotary dial? This would take a bit of electrical wiring, of course, but when 
you spun that dial you would be sending dial pulses into two separate telephone lines in the 
same step-by-step switching office at exactly the same time. It might take a few tries, but using 
this method you were likely to succeed in jamming a step-by-step switch. 

Another place that simultaneous seizure could occur was on the long-distance network, 
when two long-distance tandems simultaneously seized the same long-distance trunk to make 

a call to the other. For example, imagine a long-distance trunk line between New York and Los 
Angeles; this is a bidirectional trunk, so it can be used for calls in either direction. If the 
switching equipment in both New York and Los Angeles happen to grab this trunk line to make 
a call to the other, and do so at the same time, two unrelated calls will be thrown together. 
Phone phreaks could cause this situation to happen by making a long-distance call and then 
whistling off with 2,600 Hz and continuing to send 2,600 Hz down the line, thus mimicking the 
idle line condition. At some point the remote tandem would route a call back to the phone 
phreak who could then prank the hapless caller. 

Once you had jammed the switch, you could lie in wait for incoming calls. If you were a bit 
clever, you could influence what part of the switch you jammed and thus what types of incoming 
calls you would be getting. For example, phone phreak Mark Bernay — who had had nothing to 
do with the Santa Barbara prank, it should be pointed out — was fond of jamming incoming 
directory assistance calls. Sometimes he would prank the callers, but more often he would 
actually look up telephone numbers for them, just like a directory assistance operator would, 
leafing through LA-area phone books as quickly as he could. “We would sit there trying to look 
things up fast enough to satisfy the customers,” he remembers. “It was really hard to do. I 
became very impressed with directory assistance!” 

One of the pair of phreaks who pulled off the Santa Barbara A-bomb pranks recalled that they 
stayed on the lines about half an hour, telling callers that their calls to Santa Barbara had been 
intercepted due to a nuclear explosion. “We didn’t even know what we were going to do — it 
was all impromptu. ... It was for the reaction, just to see how people would react.” In retrospect, 
he said, “It’s not something I would ever want to repeat again.” 

Perhaps the ultimate phone phreak prank belongs to Captain Crunch and a friend of his, 
though their material came courtesy of Johnny Carson’s joke writers. The year 1973 had been 
a rough one for the United States, what with the ongoing Watergate scandal and the energy 
crisis and gas rationing. Carson, the host of the popular Tonight show, watched by millions of 
people every evening, joked on TV in late December about the latest crisis facing the United 
States: “You know, we’ve got all sorts of shortages these days. But have you heard the latest? 
I’m not kidding. I saw it in the paper. There’s a shortage of toilet paper.” The next day 
Americans rushed to buy toilet tissue, emptying shelves in stores. Carson later apologized for 
the joke and clarified that there was no toilet paper shortage, except that now it seemed as if 
there actually were one, since people could see for themselves that store shelves were bare. 
The rumor took hold and it was months before the situation worked itself out. 

With that as background, Crunch’s prank began with a call to a particular toll-free 800 
number. Back in the 1970s, 800 numbers mapped to regular telephone numbers. In fact, each 
prefix within the 800 system translated to a particular area code. For example, 800-421 mapped 
to area code 213 in Los Angeles, 800-227 mapped to area code 415 in the San Francisco Bay 
Area, and 800-424 mapped to area code 202 in Washington, D.C. 

Now, if you’re a phone phreak and want to scan for interesting numbers, what better place to 
dig through than Washington, D.C.? There are only ten thousand numbers to dial and it doesn’t 
cost you anything to call them — they’re toll-free, after all — and it should be a natural hunting 
ground for interesting things. Before long the phone phreaks had discovered a toll-free number 
that went to the White House: (800) 424-9337. Draper believed this was the “CIA crisis line,” 
that is, the CIA’s hotline to the White House, and he claims that he was able to eavesdrop on it 
using his blue box. One evening, Draper says, he and a friend were listening to this line and, 
through their wiretapping, learned that the code name for the president was “Olympus.” 

“Now we had the code word that would summon Nixon to the phone,” Draper says. He and 
his friend wasted no time in dialing the 800 number, though he claims they were careful to first 

route their call through several tandems in order to make it difficult to trace back. 

“9337,” said the person who answered the phone. 

“Olympus, please!” Draper’s friend said. 

“One moment, sir.” 

About a minute later, Draper recalls, a man who sounded “remarkably like Nixon” asked, 
“What’s going on?” 

“We have a crisis here in Los Angeles!” Draper’s friend replied. 

“What’s the nature of the crisis?” the voice asked. 

In the most serious voice he could summon, Draper’s friend responded, “We’re out of toilet 
paper, sir!” 

“Who is this /’ Draper recalls the Nixon-like voice demanding. Draper and his friend quickly 
hung up. 

“I think this was one of the funniest pranks,” Draper says, “and I don’t think that Woz would 
even come close to this one. I think he was jealous for a long time.” 



National public radio host Jim Russell’s authoritative baritone delivered the ominous news. 
“This is the story of a war,” he intoned. “This war finds small bands of guerrillas attacking an 
enormous conventional army. While the large conventional army has been quick to publicize its 
victories, there is still great uncertainty about who is winning.” 

NPR listeners could be forgiven for thinking this was yet another story about the Vietnam 
War. In January 1973 Vietnam was on the minds of Americans everywhere; after on-again, off- 
again peace talks with the North Vietnamese, President Nixon had just ordered a massive 
resumption of B-52 bombing raids over the Christmas holidays. 

The story wasn’t about Vietnam, however, it was about phone phreaks. “The Telephone 
Company You’re Dialing Has Been Temporarily Disconnected” was an hour-long special 
featuring the likes of Al Bell, Al Gilbertson, and Joe Engressia. Over jangly background music 
made up of MF tones — a song called the “MF Boogie,” composed on an electronic organ during 
a conference call by the musical phone phreak Kim Lingo — the program gave its listeners a 
thorough, if slightly exaggerated, introduction to phone phreaking. It covered blue and black 
boxes, international dialing, conference calls, toll-free loop arounds, the YIPL newsletter, phone 
phreak conventions, Captain Crunch’s arrest and conviction, and even early computer hacking. 

For balance, it included counterpoint from Joe Doherty, AT&T’s director of corporate security 
— the man NPR described as the “ranking general in Ma Bell’s war effort against the phone 
phreaks.” Doherty admitted that much of the phreaking problem was a self-inflicted wound. “The 
candor with which we have published technical information through the years, especially the 
early years, as to how the system works has come back to plague us to some extent,” he said. 
But he also emphasized that the game had changed: “At one time, to be perfectly frank, we 
were, in my view, somewhat overly lenient, in that we would just caution these people, slap 
them on the wrist and give them a deterrent interview. We did not prosecute to any great extent. 
We have changed that policy. We are prosecuting as a rule now, rather than an exception.” In 
addition, the network would eventually be modified to make phone phreaking obsolete. “It’s a 
tradeoff between the cost of prevention and what we’re losing,” he said. “We are restudying the 

most economical way to modify the network at the present time.” 

The NPR program seemed to underscore the fact that phone phreaking had reached a 
tipping point. Thanks to the Esquire article, NPR, and other media coverage, coupled with the 
rise of the New Left and the hippie-Yippie “rip off culture,” phone phreaking — at least the sort of 
phreaking that was interested primarily in making free phone calls — was spreading to the 
mainstream. The host of the NPR program went so far as to suggest that there were “tens of 
millions” of potential phone phreaks due to widespread hatred of the phone company. 

But it was too soon to count Ma Bell out. Its newly acquired penchant for prosecution, 
coupled with improved technology that was proliferating throughout the network, would give the 
phreaks a run for their money. 

One of these bits of technology had been invented more than twenty-five years earlier. On a 
workbench in Murray Hill, New Jersey, in 1947 three Bell Labs researchers — Walter Brattain, 
John Bardeen, and William Shockley — had lashed together a setup that looked about as 
unlikely as Alexander Graham Bell’s original telephone back in 1876. It looked a bit like a high 
school science fair project, to be honest. It was a plastic wedge with a sharp edge that was 
pressed against a small chunk of germanium. Trapped between the wedge and the germanium 
were two small strips of gold foil. 

Three tiny wires came away from the thing. One, attached directly to the base of the 
germanium, was a control input. If you applied a voltage to this wire, electric current could flow 
between the other two wires connected to the gold foil strips. This odd action happened 
because germanium was neither fish nor fowl. It was a semiconductor: not quite a conductor but 
not quite an insulator either. And though its semiconductor properties were not well understood 
at first, the practical implication was immediately clear. The little widget could be used both as 
an electronic switch and as an amplifier, just like a vacuum tube or a relay. But unlike vacuum 
tubes and relays, this thing could be turned on or off almost instantaneously. It was tiny, it had 
no moving parts, it consumed little power, and it didn’t wear out. 

The researchers called it a transistor, and less than ten years later the trio would be awarded 
the Nobel Prize in physics for its invention. 

It was not lost on the engineers at Bell Labs that the transistor might be the ideal thing to form 
the fabric of a new telephone switching system, the technology the company needed to replace 
the old step-by-step and crossbar switches. Indeed, the first proposals within Bell Labs for a 
transistor-based telephone switching system came as early as 1952. Years earlier Strowger 
switches, with their rotors and pawls, had begun to replace operators who used plugs and jacks 
to make connections between pairs of telephone wires. They were in turn replaced by relays 
and crossbar switches. Now transistors would replace these electromechanical contrivances. 
No longer would telephone company central offices be filled with the clicks and clacks of 
physical switching as calls were placed; transistors would silently and electronically connect 
pairs of wires to one another. This new approach was dubbed “electronic switching.” 

Bell Labs’ first foray into electronic switching began in 1954. For a variety of technical 
reasons, the transistor itself would not be used as the electronic device that would actually 
connect pairs of telephone wires together. Instead, transistors would make up the logic — the 
brains — that controlled the switches; in this role transistors were replacing the relays that had 
been used as the control logic in the crossbar system. But by 1955 the engineers working on 
the prototype electronic switching system at Bell Labs had run into problems. The control 
circuits had grown complex and unwieldy. Worse, every time the requirements changed — and 
given that they were building a pie-in-the-sky prototype system, requirements changed 
frequently — the engineers would have to go back and redesign surprisingly large chunks of the 
hardwired control logic. 

During the summer of 1955 one of the Bell Labs engineers read an article that described a 
newfangled thing called a digital computer. He was “struck by the similarity of what the 
computer could do and the actions required of the [telephone switch] control circuits.” Within a 
few months Bell Labs had abandoned its approach of using transistors to create hardwired 
logic to control the new telephone switch. Instead, researchers would use transistors to build a 
programmable digital computer. The computer and its program would control the telephone 
switch. They christened this concept stored program control, or SPC. If it worked, SPC 
promised a much more flexible, capable telephone system. New features could be added 
quickly and telephone switches could be upgraded simply by reprogramming them, instead of 
by rewiring or replacing physical hardware. Moreover, they hoped, such switches would be 
cheaper in the long run: computer-controlled electronic switching systems could serve more 
telephone lines than their electromechanical brethren, which in turn meant fewer central offices 
would be needed. 

It was a risky approach. Bell Labs had never built a computer before and its engineers had 
never written a line of computer code. Yet now they were proposing to stake the development of 
the company’s next-generation switching system on this new and unproven architecture. 

Development took years, culminating finally in the 1960 trial of the world’s first electronic 
telephone switching system — a trial that was fully a year behind schedule. Known simply as 
“Morris” after Morris, Illinois, the city that hosted it, it served only a few hundred telephone lines. 

Now, at some fundamental level, computers haven’t changed that much. At their most basic, 
computers still consist of central processing units (CPUs) and memories. The CPU executes 
instructions, that is, simple low-level commands that tell it what to do. These instructions direct 
the CPU to do things such as load a value from memory, store a value to memory, perform an 
arithmetic or logic operation, compare the result of an operation to some other result, or branch 
— execute some other set of instructions — depending on some previous result. 

Today if you want a computer you can buy one for a few hundred dollars. Your computer will 
probably have a central processing unit — a processor — that executes somewhere between one 
billion and three billion instructions per second. This is made possible by about a billion 
transistors on a piece of silicon about the size of a postage stamp. Your computer will probably 
have several gigabytes of memory, that is, more than 10 billion bits, the zeros and ones that 
make up binary data. It will likely take less power than a pair of 100-watt lightbulbs and be 
smaller than a toaster. 

In contrast, the computer that controlled the Morris switch consisted of twelve thousand 
individual transistors connected to one another by a spider’s web of wires. It executed its 
programs at a then blazing three hundred thousand instructions per second — in other words, 
about five thousand times slower than a typical PC today. For reliability, Morris had two 
complete CPUs running in sync with each other. If one detected an error in its computations, it 
would take itself out of operation and pass control to its twin, ideally never dropping a 
telephone call in the process. The entire program to operate the Morris telephone switch took 
about fifty thousand instructions, including things such as maintenance tasks; the portion used 
for typical phone calls was smaller. This number was large by the standards of the day but is 
tiny now. Microsoft’s popular word-processing program Word is about one hundred times 
larger, and that’s not counting the gigantic Windows operating system. 

Morris’s program memory — the place where its programs were stored — looked like 
something out of a 1 950s science fiction movie. Called the “flying spot store,” it consisted of four 
ten-inch by twelve-inch glass photographic plates with thousands of tiny black dots on them. A 
cathode ray tube — like an old-school television picture tube — moved a spot of light across the 
plate. As the beam of light flew across the dots, lenses and photodetectors decided whether 

they were seeing a “1 ” (a transparent spot) or a “0” (a black spot that blocked the light), enabling 
the bits of Morris’s program to be read out. Morris’s data memory — the “barrier grid store” — was 
similarly Frankensteinian, using electron beams generated by cathode ray tubes to deposit 
charges on an insulating plate. These charges could be changed on the fly to store Os or Is of 
binary data. The individual electronic components that Morris was built out of, such as 
transistors and diodes, were often designed in-house by Bell Labs and produced by Western 
Electric, AT&T’s manufacturing subsidiary. In total, Morris consisted of four rows of metal 
cabinets chock-full of components; each row was about seven feet tall by two feet deep. Oh, 
and thirty-five feet long. 

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Morris was that it actually worked. Fundamentally, 
Morris demonstrated two things. First, the stored program control concept was viable, and a 
computer could in fact control a telephone switching system. Second, however, it demonstrated 
just how much more there was to be done before electronic switching was ready for prime time. 

Bell Labs folded the hard-won knowledge from the Morris trial into an effort to develop a 
production-quality electronic switching system (ESS). It took five more years of hard work; a 
senior Bell Labs employee described the ESS development effort as a “traumatic experience.” 
But the new system, called — naturally — the No. 1 ESS, went live in 1965 in Succasunna, New 
Jersey. Though the No. 1 ESS differed in many ways from Morris, it retained the basic concepts 
of stored program control and dual processors for reliability. By the end of 1967 some eighteen 
No. 1 ESS switches had been deployed throughout the network, with many more to follow in 
the 1970s. 

Development of a commercial-grade electronic switching system had taken ten calendar 
years, a staggering four thousand man-years of engineering effort, and cost $500 million — more 
than $3.5 billion in today’s dollars. It was a perfect example of the sort of thing that the Bell 
System could do, thanks to its being a regulated monopoly with a guaranteed profit and no 
competitors to speak of. In the words of the former AT&T historian Sheldon Hochheiser, 
“Absent competition, Bell Labs and AT&T took the time to get an innovation right (as an 
engineer would define right).” Or, as one observer of the ESS effort put it, they could “take the 
problem and trample it to death.” 

Deploying computer technology throughout the network would take still more time and 
money, but the deployment was inevitable; henceforth, computers and telephone switches 
would be joined at the hip. Even old telephone switches weren’t safe from the computer 
revolution, not even the venerable 4A crossbar switch, the workhorse tandem of the long- 
distance network. Designed in the 1950s, 4As were purely electromechanical affairs, with 
vacuum tubes and relays and mechanical card translator systems that looked up routing 
information by shining light through steel punch cards. AT&T set about upgrading these 
switches, replacing their relay-wired control logic with computers to allow the switch to make 
faster, smarter decisions. As early as 1 969, just four years after the debut of the No. 1 ESS, Bell 
started upgrading 4As with new brains. Called the SPC No. 1A, these brains were essentially 
clones of the computers used in the No. 1 ESS. It would be the final evolution of Bell Labs’ 
cherished concept of common control — the idea that the smarts of the telephone switch should 
be separate from whatever mechanism did the actual switching. By 1976 more than 132 of the 
4As had been upgraded to computer control. 

From the telephone company’s perspective, the No. 1 ESS was eventually quite successful, 
though not without some initial teething problems. It was physically smaller than 
electromechanical telephone switches, offered vastly more features (such as call waiting and 
conference calling), and in the end cost less and could handle more calls. As far as phone 
phreaks were concerned, the No. 1 ESS was a mixed bag. On the plus side, these ESS 

installations often had more trunks to more places, and that meant more routes to explore. And 
No. 1 ESS had loop-around circuits that didn’t supe, meaning that they were free calls from 
anywhere in the country. Finally, No. 1 ESSes usually came with something called a touch- 
tone demonstrator. Believe it or not, there was a time when most telephone lines supported 
only rotary dialing; special circuitry had to be installed at the central office to enable touch-tone 
dialing on a given line, and this created a sales problem for the phone company. If you were a 
telephone installer and wanted to convince Mrs. Smith to upgrade her phone from rotary to 
touch tone (for which the telephone company charged an extra monthly fee), you had no way to 
show this new service to her, since her line probably didn’t support touch-tone dialing. A touch- 
tone demonstrator was a number that an installer could call with a rotary phone that would then 
connect to a second line, one that had touch tone enabled. This way the installer could 
demonstrate to Mrs. Smith how convenient touch tone was by using it to dial a call with a touch- 
tone phone, thereby closing the sale. Since there was no password on a touch-tone 
demonstrator, anyone could use it to make free calls as soon as the number leaked out. 

On the minus side for phone phreaks, the No. 1 ESS rendered black boxes obsolete. Mostly 
black boxes didn’t work at all with them, and even if you could get them to work a little bit you 
were limited to about thirty-eight seconds worth of conversation before you were cut off. And 
although the No. 1 ESS didn’t make blue boxing impossible, it did make it more difficult. After 
you whistled off a long-distance call on a No. 1 ESS you had about eleven seconds to key the 
number you wanted to call on your blue box and hope that the network put your call through 
and the person you were calling answered the phone within that time; if that did not happen, 
you’d wind up listening to dial tone. 

If the potential impact of the transistor was not lost on the Bell Labs engineers in the 1950s, 
neither was it lost on some of the phone phreaks in the 1970s. “Bill Acker said something so 
prophetic,” Joe Engressia recalls. “I think it was in about 1 970 or ’71 . I didn’t really believe it or 
understand it at the time. He said, right now, we have more control over the phone system than 
we ever will have again.” 

Acker was right. As the computer revolution began to proliferate through the network, the 
network began to change. It didn’t happen all at once. Slowly, over the course of the decade, 
the network began to homogenize. For example, a “precise tone plan” would make sure that 
things like ringing and busy signals sounded the same in every city throughout the network. 
And the various bugs the phreaks had counted on in the telephone switches began to 
disappear. But it was a slow process, and there was enough older installed equipment 
throughout the network to provide years more fun for the phreaks. The playground hadn’t been 
shut down just yet but it was certainly changing. 

One of the new toys that the kids brought to the playground was featured in YIPL’s February 
1973 issue: the red box. Keeping up with the Bell System’s new, increasingly computerized 
network, the red box was a new twist on an old hack. For many years pay phones had had 
actual physical bells in them that communicated to the operator how much money the customer 
had deposited: a nickel was one ding, a dime two dings, and a quarter was dong. When you 
needed to make a long-distance call at a pay phone, the operator would tell you how much 
money to deposit and then would listen to — and count — the dings and dongs as the coins you 
deposited struck the appropriate bells; imagine the patience required of an operator when a 
customer wanted to make a two-dollar long-distance call using forty nickels. 

For as long as pay phones had been making noises like these, people had been figuring out 
ways to mimic the noises to avoid paying for calls. One low-tech approach required two pay 
phones right next to each other, a common enough setup back in the day. You’d deposit your 
money in the next-door neighbor pay phone while holding the handset of your pay phone up to 

it so the operator could still hear the sounds of the bells; since you weren’t actually making a 
call on the other pay phone, it would return your money once you were finished. A higher-tech 
approach that came into vogue in the late 1960s used a portable tape recorder to play a 
recording of the bells for the operator. 

One of the problems with the dings and dongs, of course, was that they were labor intensive 
for the phone company; a live operator, after all, had to sit there and count bells. Paving the way 
for automation, AT&T began introducing pay phones that went beep instead of ding. The beeps 
were electronically generated tones: one beep for a nickel, two beeps for a dime, and five 
shorter beeps for a quarter. The new beeps weren’t any more secure than the dings and dongs 
but they had the advantage that they were easier to generate electronically — no bulky bells 
required — and, eventually, they could be detected by a computer instead of a human being. 

Of course, the fact that the beeps were easier for AT&T to generate electronically meant that 
they were easier for phone phreaks to generate electronically, too, and that’s where the red box 
came in. The red box was simply a tone generator, producing one, two, or five beeps of the 
appropriate duration. To start with, it was a single tone — 2,200 Hz — but later AT&T mixed in a 
second tone, 1 ,700 Hz. The phone phreaks quickly modified their red boxes to follow suit. 

The red box, like the black box, really had no use in exploring the telephone network. It was, 
plain and simple, a way to make free phone calls. “To me, a red box was unethical,” says 
Seattle phone phreak Bob Gudgel, “because it was actually stealing quarters and dimes and 
nickels” — in contrast to a blue box, which actually had some intellectual purpose. Indeed, YIPL 
was not particularly popular among the network explorer-type phone phreaks. Some of this 
was intellectual snobbery. They felt that YIPL catered to the lower echelons of phone phreaks, 
kids who didn’t know very much and were only able to follow the instructions of others. But the 
other problem was both larger and more practical, and had to do with the size of YIPL ’ s mailing 
list. If some cool network feature, say a conference bridge or something, made it into the pages 
of YIPL, the next month it would have thousands of people calling it, and the month after that it 
would be gone. 

So while the network explorer phone phreaks may not have had much use for YIPL or the red 
box, the fact was they were rapidly becoming the minority. Indeed, the phrase “phone phreak” 
was becoming synonymous with someone interested in making free phone calls. There 
seemed to be a lot more interest in beating the system — whatever the system was — than in 
exploring it. 

YIPL understood its audience and their love of free things. By August 1 973 it had changed its 
name: it was now TAP, the Technological American Party. As “Al Bell” wrote in the introduction 
to that issue, “No fancy excuses: we changed our name because we want people to know 
where we really are and what we hope to become. Technological American Party is rapidly 
becoming a people’s warehouse of technological information, and a name like Youth 
International Party Line simply didn’t ring a bell, even if you were trying to find out how to 
contact the phone phreaks, except of course for the Party Line. We’ve been receiving so much 
information lately about gas and electric meters, locks, even chemistry, that a name change is 
definitely in order. We seriously doubt that phones will cease to be our main interest, but it 
really isn’t fair to ignore the rest of what science has to offer.” 

YIPL — er, TAP — didn’t know it but it had dodged a bullet. At the urging of Pacific Northwest 
Bell, the FBI had investigated the newsletter in 1974 but found nothing that it could be 
prosecuted for. Indeed, the FBI learned, “the legal department of [New York Telephone] has 
gone as high as the N. Y. State Attorney General’s office in Albany but was told that no action 
could be taken against ‘TAP’ for to do so would constitute a violation of ‘freedom of the press.’” 

Not every group that wanted to publicize phone fraud techniques was located in a state that 

shared New York’s love of freedom of the press. For example, in 1974 Michigan Bell had a 
misdemeanor criminal complaint filed against the Detroit underground newspaper Fifth Estate 
for publishing “Taming the Telephone Beast”; essentially a reprint of the Ramparts article, it 
also gave the details of the 1 974 telephone credit card code. 

Then there was the Telephone Electronics Line newsletter, or TEL. Started in 1974 and run 
out of Los Angeles, TEL was the creation of Jack Kranyak, whose company, Teletronics of 
America, also sold electronics plans via mail order. For $6 per year, TEL subscribers could 
read something like a more technical and less political version of TAP, one focused solely on 
topics telephonic. “How to Call Long Distance for Free,” “Modern Phone Phreaking,” “Detection: 
How to Avoid It,” “Overseas Dialing Techniques,” and “Trashing the Phone Company — A Look 
at Ma Bell’s ‘Garbage’” were some of the articles published over the course of seven months. 
Considering the provisions of Section 502.7 of the California Penal Code — the law that made it 
illegal to publish plans or instructions for telephone fraud, which Pacific Telephone had 
brandished when it had suppressed the Ramparts article — it was a miracle that TEL lasted as 
long as it did. After its eighth issue, Teletronics, Kranyak, and several others associated with 
the newsletter were sued by Pacific Telephone in 1975. The telephone company won, 
obtaining an injunction against TEL. Linder pain of a $100,000 penalty, Kranyak and company 
were prohibited from publishing any further information about defrauding the telephone system. 
In addition, Teletronics was required to turn its mailing list over to the telephone company. 
Soon some eight thousand people — both former subscribers to TEL and people who had just 
requested a catalog of plans from Teletronics — received an odd note from Pacific Telephone in 
the mail. “Dear Telephone User,” it began. “Your name appeared on a list (provided under court 
order) of subscribers, or potential subscribers, to material previously published by Teletronics 
Company of America.” It went on to remind the Telephone User that it was a violation of state 
and federal laws to steal telephone service or to “provide information to any person which is 
useful for such purpose.” It concluded, ’’Accordingly, you are urged to destroy any and all 
written material or device you may have which may violate any of these laws.” 

One recipient of this missive wrote a letter to the editor of Radio Electronics, a hobbyist 
magazine in which Teletronics had run ads. The Pacific Telephone letter, he wrote, “would 
appear to me to be saying that dissemination or mere possession of information which could be 
used tor disapproved purposes is a criminal offense.” He concluded, “I am committed to the 
position that curiosity alone is sufficient ‘need to know’ and that it is a fundamental freedom that 
criminality must be judged by what an individual does, not upon the knowledge which he has 
acquired or what he could do with it.” 

Phone shenanigans, it turned out, weren’t confined to the shores of the United States. In 
January 1973 London’s Sunday Times ran a front-page expose charging that employees of the 
British Post Office, which ran the nation’s telephone system, had installed special circuits — so- 
called fiddles — inside telephone company central offices that allowed those in the know to 
make free or reduced-rate long-distance or overseas calls. The article claimed that at least 
seventy-five telephone central offices had been fiddled and the cost of the theft was almost 2 
million pounds each year. A post office spokesman described it as “serious national problem” 
and a “nationwide telephone fraud that has cost a vast but unknown sum in lost revenues.” 

That was all internal fraud, however, even if widespread and headline grabbing. England’s 
first big, public run-in with real live phone phreaks came later that year, in October 1973, with 
the trial of nineteen young men at Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court. Arrested at a 
phone phreak tea party at a flat in London a year earlier, the phreaks included Oxford and 
Cambridge graduates and the prosecutor in the case allowed that they were all “men of 
intellectual stature.” The charges went back to 1968 when their fun and games began and 

covered a variety of offenses, including conspiracy, fraud, and theft of the government’s 
electricity. Unlike the fiddlers within the British Post Office, these gentlemen were in fact 
network explorers with little or no interest in fraud. As was revealed at trial, on the day of the tea 
party the phreaks had made a total of 222 calls using a variety of techniques, including the use 
of ten different “bleeper boxes.” Of these calls, exactly three went to live human beings, and 
those three had all been made legally. The trial went on for more than a month. In the end, 
charges were dismissed against one defendant, ten pleaded guilty partway through the trial, 
and eight were acquitted. To the acquitted the judge remarked, “Your trial is over and now I can 
congratulate you. I never did think you were dishonest, and I never said so.” But, he added, “Do 
exercise some care and judgment in the future because men of your distinction ought never find 
themselves in the dock at the Central Criminal Court.” 

Back in the United States, phreaking continued its push into mainstream society. If anything, 
in fact, it overshot and landed among the stars. In 1974, for example, rock star Ike Turner was 
arrested along with three others for using a blue box from a recording studio in Los Angeles — a 
blue box that was later said to have come from Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. 

Then there was the case of Bernard Cornfeld, the flamboyant financier who had built a $2.5 
billion hedge fund called International Overseas Investors that eventually ran afoul of securities 
regulators; he was charged with fraud and spent almost a year in a Swiss prison until he was 
eventually acquitted. Cornfeld lived a lavish lifestyle, surrounded by women as he jetted 
between his castle in France and his mansion in Beverly Hills. But in January 1975 his Los 
Angeles mansion was raided by the FBI and his secretary was charged with blue box fraud. 
“Unfortunately [for the FBI] they just missed the shooting of a Playboy center spread,” he joked 
to a reporter. Cornfeld himself, cracking fewer jokes this time, was arrested on the same 
charges about six months later. In all, FBI agents seized five blue boxes from Cornfeld’s 
mansion, four of which, according to FBI files, had Wozniak and Jobs’s telltale “He’s got the 
whole world in his hands” notes inside them. 

Then Lainie Kazan — singer, actress, and a former Playboy model — pleaded guilty to blue 
box charges in November 1975 and was fined, ordered to make restitution to the phone 
company, and placed on eighteen months’ probation. The blue box suppliers? Woz and Jobs. 

Finally, in December of that year, police said, Robert Cummings — an Emmy Award-winning 
actor with more than fifty movies to his credit, including Dial M for Murder— was arrested in 
Seattle with blue box in hand. It was like a little celebrity blue box crime wave, a good chunk of 
it from the two Steves and their Los Angeles connections. 

Its movement into mainstream society had changed the culture of phreaking once already, 
shifting it away from curiosity and into the realm of outright thievery. But now, even among the 
hobbyist network-explorer types, it began changing again. In some ways the NPR announcer 
had been right — it really was the story of a war and like any war, this one was not without its 
spies and paranoia. Informants seemed to be everywhere, or so many phone phreaks believed. 
This notion began to change the way the phone phreaks interacted with one another. 

The first evidence of this was the breakup of the phone phreaks into smaller and more 
isolated groups made up of people who knew each other personally. Of the many such groups 
across the country, one of them centered on David Condon — the legendary Davy Crockett, the 
man who, with the help of his girlfriends and his Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute, had tricked 
long-distance operators back in the 1950s into making free calls for him from Oak Ridge, 
Tennessee. Now, almost twenty years later, in 1973, Condon had moved to California and 
found himself the nucleus of a cell of half a dozen phone phreaks, mostly students and staff 
from UC Berkeley. Several were gifted electrical engineers and one was also a talented chef. 
Together they spent many evenings in a house on Colby Street in north Oakland exploring the 

network with fancy blue boxes after equally fancy meals. “We’d cook dinner and then we’d play 
until the wee hours of the morning. It was a real circus!” Condon says. They delighted in finding 
new ways to outfox the network, including an unlikely but successful scheme that involved 
running high-voltage electricity directly into the telephone line to confuse the switching 

But the cuisine and calls were served with a healthy side dish of paranoia. Although 
Condon’s group had occasional interactions with other phreaks — Bill Acker was someone 
Condon respected and trusted and occasionally talked to — they kept to themselves as much as 
possible. They avoided conference calls and loop arounds, preferring to do their own research 
rather than trade information with people who might be informants. And as a rule universally 
agreed upon within their group, they avoided John Draper and his friends like the plague. “I tell 
you,” Condon says, “Draper was the kiss of death. He was asking for it, he was looking for 
trouble.” Well, Condon admits, perhaps Draper wasn’t really looking to get caught, but he was 
so boastful and careless and public about everything he did that he might as well have been. 
“He was very flagrant,” says Condon. 

A similar cell formed on the East Coast around the same time. Called Group Bell it included, 
among several others, New York phreaks Evan Doorbell and Ben Decibel..§§ Yet there was 
one New York phone phreak it specifically did not include: Bill Acker. “They explicitly excluded 
me, because they felt I was not going to keep their secrets,” Acker remembers. “My exclusion 
from Group Bell was really Ben Decibel saying, This guy Bill is a little too free with who he 

§§The pseudonym he went by at the time. 

Being excluded hurt Acker’s feelings, especially after having believed he’d been alone in the 
wilderness for so many years. It “was just nasty,” he says. Still, he is not without sympathy for 
the underlying problem. The gems that the phone phreaks found in the network tended to be 
lost as soon as they became widely known — just look at the 21 1 1 and 052 conferences. The 
more people who knew about a particular vulnerability, the more likely it was that someone 
from the phone company would find out about it and fix it, and possibly get them all in trouble in 
the process. “I think if I found something that was really cool but that obviously would go away if 
word of it got around, I think I’d be a little more selective about who I told,” Acker says. Similarly, 
he says, he was perfectly willing to keep something confidential if someone asked him to. Not 
so Joe Engressia. Acker says, “He didn’t want any part of that. His attitude was, nobody’s going 
to put restrictions on anything I do.” Information wants to be free, the saying goes, but it turns out 
that certain information also wants to be kept secret. And therein lies the tension. The more 
people you knew and talked to, the more you were likely to learn interesting things, but it was 
also more likely that you might get caught or the cool things you knew about would go away. “It 
was a struggle,” Acker recalls. 

In retrospect, perhaps it was the phone company that should have been paranoid. Some 
phreaks were becoming bolder in their quest to understand the network. One such phreak in 
New York recalls making friends with a fellow named George, 5131 an operator at the AT&T 
overseas switching center at 32 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan in 1975 or so. George 
provided him with a copy of the quick reference guide used by the international operators, 
giving the phreaks valuable international routing codes. Before long the phone phreak had 
talked George into loaning him his telephone company ID card, allowing him to slip inside and 
wander the switching center, looking for desirable manuals and reference books. “Later, after I 
pointed out the location of the books to him,” the phone phreak recalls, “he put them in a 
garbage bag, which he placed in the freight elevator along with the other garbage. And yes, I 
went searching for it. It was my first time going through the telephone company’s garbage, but 

not my last.” 

JHA pseudonym. 

Still, the phone phreaks’ increased paranoia wasn’t without reason. In addition to celebrities, 
some of the original phone phreaks were being busted too. Blind San Jose-area phone phreak 
Jim Fettgather’s arrest came in 1973. “The [Telephone Company] chief special agents kept 
warning us over and over again,” Fettgather remembers. “They really were actually friendly. 
They were not mean in any way. They talked with my folks, they talked with me,” Fettgather 
says, all to warn him to stop phreaking. “They knew what was happening. I don’t quite know 
how they found out, but they knew we were doing all this MFing and muting and so forth. We 
were given ample warning, there’s no question.” Finally, he says, the phone company must 
have had enough. The local police showed up with a search warrant and Fettgather spent a 
night in jail. “The whole thing was pretty ugly,” he says. 

It was Denny Teresi’s turn next. Teresi, the blind kid with what the Esquire article described 
as the “voice of a crack oil-rig foreman,” the phreak with the otherworldly skill at getting 
telephone company switchmen to wire things up for him, had gone one call too far. “What finally 
nailed me was something that I had wired up in San Francisco,” he says. “It was a touch-tone 
demonstrator, where you dial in to one number and it would grab dial tone from another line . . . 
You could make outgoing calls, and all the calls were billed to an unassigned test number. That 
was up for a while. When they took it down I had the balls to call back in and get it wired up. I 
probably would have gotten nailed sooner or later anyway, but that was just the final straw. 
When I called back to have it wired in, they went ahead and wired it up for me, but they set it up 
and then they watched that line for three weeks and they billed me for all of the calls. I probably 
should have let well enough alone and just let it go away.” 

Like Fettgather, Teresi agrees that the Pacific Telephone security agents had given them 
more than their share of breaks. “For the longest time the chief special agent, in this case 
George Alex, they had working on the case in San Jose, he was calling my parents or Jim’s 
parents or whatever, and he’d let them know what’s going on and he’d try to get us to cut it out. 
That went on for five years,” he says. “I guess they figured that would be enough of a slap on 
the hand to get us to slow it down or stop.” Teresi was fined $1 50 and had to pay for $320 worth 
of phone calls. 

For the year 1973, an AT&T internal memo noted, there were 119 arrests for electronic toll 
fraud — more than double of the previous year. By 1974 the number had jumped to 158. By 
1975 it was 176. Joseph Doherty, AT&T’s director of corporate security, was as good as his 
word: “We are prosecuting as a rule now, rather than an exception.” 



u n june 21 , 1 975, John Draper did something a little bit stupid. 

That day he entered a telephone booth in New York City and dialed an 800 number in 
Oakland, California. While the call was going through he held a blue box up to the phone and 
pressed a button, sending a burst of 2,600 Hz down the line. 

“Bleeepf’ said the blue box. “ Kerchink /’ responded the telephone network. 

Draper pressed more buttons. Key pulse. 127 552 2155. Start. A few seconds later the 
telephone network rewarded him with what sounded like a bad imitation of Donald Duck talking 
to one of his nephews. If you squinted your ears and used your imagination you might think it 

sounded almost — almost— like two people talking. 

Draper pressed another button and sent another quick blip of 2,600 Hz down the line. Donald 
Duck was replaced by the clear voices of two people talking about a work-related matter. 
Draper was now in the middle of their conversation, listening quietly. He eavesdropped for a 
few minutes and then hung up. 

Draper had just used his blue box to hack into an internal telephone company service called 
verification. The need for this service sprang from one of the most annoying sounds in the 
world: the repetitive baaa . . . baaa . . . baaa of the busy signal. Although it’s less common to run 
into them today, what with call waiting being a standard feature on every mobile phone, it 
wasn’t that long ago that busy signals routinely drove people up the wall, especially if you were 
trying urgently to reach somebody with important news — somebody who, let’s say, had a 
teenage son or daughter who was constantly on the phone. When your frustration boiled over in 
such cases you could call the operator, give her the number you were trying to reach, and ask 
her to verify if someone was indeed talking on the line. After all, perhaps the person you were 
calling had simply forgotten to hang up the phone properly. If a conversation was actually in 
progress, you could ask for an emergency interrupt, in which case the operator would barge 
into the conversation and announce to your party that you were trying to reach them. Naturally, 
the Bell System charged for both of these services, typically 25b or so in the 1 970s. 

Busy line verification service had been around since the early 1900s. It was kind of a spooky 
thing, since it allowed operators to monitor and break in on private telephone calls. For security 
reasons, in most places only special operators had access to busy verification trunks, and 
these were limited to a particular city or area or telephone exchange. That way, an operator in 
Kansas City couldn’t eavesdrop on someone in San Francisco, for example. 

It didn’t take phone phreaks long to start playing with verification, and by 1 970 or so they had 
learned that you could call an inward operator, pretend to be someone from the test board, and 
— if you had the right voice or maybe just got lucky — talk her into “putting you up” (that is, 
plugging you in) to a verify trunk. From there, with a blue box, you could select the particular 
telephone line in that area or exchange that you wanted to eavesdrop upon. 

As with everything else in the telephone network, verification started out as a manual affair 
but eventually became automated. By 1972 phone phreaks like Bill Acker, Ray Oklahoma, and 
Joe Engressia had discovered that verification circuits in some places could be reached with 
just a blue box, no operator required, from anywhere in the country. Telephone calls in parts of 
Miami, Dallas, San Francisco, and Long Island, New York, to name the four that the phreaks 
had discovered, could all be eavesdropped upon this way. As scary as this sort of security hole 
seems, the phone phreaks viewed verification access primarily as a harmless prank, the sort of 
thing you might do to your pal as a joke. 

Or maybe for bragging rights. So believe it or not using verification to eavesdrop on a 
telephone conversation wasn’t the little-bit-stupid thing that John Draper did that day. No, the 
little-bit-stupid thing was the telephone number he had chosen to eavesdrop upon. Because 
415-552-2155 was the telephone number of the San Francisco field office of the Federal 
Bureau of Investigation. 

It would be a couple of more days before Draper did something really stupid. 

Draper lived in California but was visiting New York, hanging out with his buddy Chic Eder. 
Eder was a burly, forty-five-year-old ex-con whose slightly bulging eyes perched above a bushy 
mustache and underneath a balding head, surrounded on both sides by long, straggly hair. 
Outgoing, friendly, intelligent, and intense, Eder was a dope dealer’s dope dealer, given to 
introducing himself to strangers with a handshake and the phrase, “Chic’s the name, smoke’s 
my game.” An acquaintance of the stand-up comic Lenny Bruce — “It was my best friend in LA 

who sold Lenny the smack he OD’ed on,” Eder is said to have claimed — Eder had become a 
staple of the New York City drug scene: friends with everybody he met, unafraid to wander into 
the toughest neighborhoods, sure that he could take care of himself in any situation. This 
confidence came from hard-won experience. Eder was like a one-man crime wave, one whose 
rap sheet spanned almost ten pages. It went as far back as 1 950 and detailed offenses such as 
fraud, reckless driving, vagrancy, possession of a concealed weapon, possession of narcotics, 
burglary ... the list went on. Eder had spent years behind bars in some very tough places. His 
most recent legal woes stemmed from his involvement in the firebombing of a police station in 
Santa Barbara, California, an act that appeared to be connected to the Weather Underground 
organization, a political offshoot of the New Left dedicated to the violent overthrow of the United 
States. In 1971 Eder was convicted of possession of marijuana and a firebomb and sentenced 
to spend up to fifteen years enjoying the hospitality of the California state prison system. 

It was hospitality he apparently didn’t care for. Eder busted out of prison in late 1972, only to 
be apprehended six months later. Yet somehow, despite a lengthy original sentence and 
subsequent prison escape, he was granted parole and released just a year and a half later. He 
moved to New York City where he began working with his friend Albert Goldman, a professor 
and writer, helping research an article on the dope-dealing trade. Eder’s contribution to the 
effort included buying and selling drugs in New York’s roughest neighborhoods. 

Draper had already told Eder about phone hacking — free calls and the various colored boxes 
that phone phreaks used. This was, after all, four years after the Esquire article and it’s not like 
this stuff was that much of a secret anymore. Besides, keeping quiet was never one of John 
Draper’s strengths. It wasn’t too long before Draper was telling Eder about his eavesdropping 
on the FBI. 

And that was the really stupid thing. Because Chic Eder was an informant for the feds. Eder’s 
career as an informant began with a letter to the FBI, written just three months after being back 
in the clink from his earlier prison break. “Dear Agent in Charge,” the letter read. “You want 
Weather Underground fugitives. I want a parole, and some money to start a new life. 
Interested?! As you’re aware, I can deliver. There will be, however, certain stipulations that are 
non-negotiable. The prime requisite — above even the parole and money — is that you agree to 
take no action that might bring suspicion to bear on me as an informant.” Toward the end of the 
letter Eder reflected, “This is no snap decision on my part. It’s taken a great deal of cold, hard 
thinking to bring me to a point 1 80 degrees from my previous position on informing.” 

It is said that no good news comes between midnight and six a.m. 

True to this maxim, the FBI’s first inkling that its calls were being wiretapped came at 2:01 
a.m. on June 24, 1 975, in the form of an urgent teletype message from its New York office. The 
five-page message, wordy by FBI standards, was marked confidential and was encrypted for 
added security. It described Draper’s use of a blue box to wiretap the San Francisco office, 
gave a quick sketch of Draper’s background, and described ‘“phone freaks,’ an underground 
clandestine group involved in making ‘blue boxes.’” It requested FBI headquarters to authorize 
funds so that Eder could travel to California with Draper and purchase a blue box from him “in 
order to determine the degree of technology developed by ‘phone freaks.’” Finally, it asked the 
San Francisco office to survey its employees to see if any of them remembered making a 
telephone call like the one Eder claimed Draper intercepted. 

The FBI reacted the same way many large organizations react to surprising and unwelcome 
news: with disbelief. Informants make crazy claims all the time. This was probably just another 
one. The sort of thing you’re duty bound to check out but nothing to get too excited about. 

San Francisco responded that there was little point in asking its employees if any of them 
remembered making such a call unless the informant could be “pinned down” as to specifics. 

Perhaps headquarters could check with the FBI Laboratory to see if anyone there knew 
anything about these outlandish claims. 

San Francisco asked friends at Pacific Telephone if they knew anything about this. Was it 
even possible that some guy in New York could remotely wiretap the San Francisco FBI office? 
Pacific Telephone told them that this was all nonsense. According to the phone company the 
only automatic telephone monitoring equipment in northern California was in Stinson Beach, 
Inverness, and Point Reyes, beautiful rural towns north of San Francisco but far away from the 
FBI’s offices. Though it might conceivably be possible that calls in those small towns could be 
vulnerable, Pacific Telephone said, firmly, “San Francisco is not serviced by this equipment 
and calls cannot be monitored” by the procedure Eder claimed Draper had used. 

An anonymous source familiar with the investigation summarized it this way: “An informant 
contacts us and tells us, This guy Draper is bugging your calls.’ Our Laboratory Division knows 
nothing about it and people in AT&T and Pacific Telephone basically say it’s not possible, just 
can’t be done.” Shrug. 

Disbelief notwithstanding, FBI headquarters authorized its New York office to pay for Eder’s 
round-trip airfare to California (“coach,” the FBI memo noted) to buy a blue box from Draper. 
The FBI also felt it needed to inform other governmental organizations of the problem. A July 2, 
1975, memo classified secret and titled “Alleged Interception of Telephone Call of Federal 
Bureau of Investigation Field Office” was dispatched to several agencies, including the U.S. 
Department of Justice and the Secret Service. 

This is to inform that an investigation is currently being conducted concerning an allegation that an interception of 
communication took place on a telephonic communication in a field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). 
Information has been received that the device used, described to be a sophisticated “blue box,” can not only intercept 
FBI telephone calls but [one sentence redacted] and calls made on the White Flouse “hotline.” 

Investigation is continuing to obtain this device for examination by our FBI laboratory so that determination may be 
made as to the capability of the device. 

You will be apprised of developments in this matter. 

News of such developments would have to wait for the FBI’s informant to turn up something 
more. Fortunately for the FBI, Chic Eder was a varsity player; he was good as a drug dealer, he 
was good as a hustler, and he was good as an informant. On July 13, he did as his masters 
bade him: he bought a blue box from Draper. Actually, blue boxes being works of art back in 
those days, he commissioned the creation of one; it would be ready for pickup in a few weeks. 
In the meantime, he got Draper again to demonstrate how to eavesdrop on the FBI’s San 
Francisco field office. This time Eder made sure to get details of the conversation they 
eavesdropped on. 

This time, in fact, he got it all on tape. 

Now it’s one thing to have an informant tell you something fantastic. Oh, you know, some 
hippie guy from California with an electronic box can somehow magically tap the FBI’s phone 
calls from New York, two thousand miles away. But it is a different thing to have an informant 
provide detailed information that can be checked against reality. It is all the more unusual when 
the informant can back it all up with a tape recording. 

“All hell broke loose,” recalls an anonymous source familiar with the investigation. “AT&T 
and Pacific Telephone said it wasn’t possible. But here’s a tape recording of it happening.” 

“Headquarters wanted this case solved, fast,” the source remembers. “In thirty years, it’s the 
most freedom I’ve ever seen special agents given in a case. All they had to do was sneeze and 
say, ‘I need a Lincoln Continental’ and there would be one parked out in front of the building. 
Headquarters wanted it solved, whatever it would take, and there were no questions asked. 
Whatever it will take to nail this guy and see to it that it doesn’t happen again.” 

Why the urgency? “The implications from a national security viewpoint, when you consider 

the consulates that were there in San Francisco, law enforcement, DEA ... the opportunities 
were limitless [for wiretapping]. And it could be done from any telephone, anywhere in the 
country. It became rather evident that if this technology fell into the wrong hands, well, the 
implications were tremendous.” 

The freedom of action may have been a pleasant change for the FBI agents but it came at a 
price. The agents working the case were now under the gun on a case that headquarters 
wanted results on, today. “You figure this out! Solve this! Figure out what he did, how he did it, 
who else was involved, who else did he intercept!” is how the source recalls the orders from 


A few days later, on July 18, Los Angeles FBI agents worked with Walter Schmidt — the same 
General Telephone security officer who had been instrumental in Draper’s arrest in 1972 — to 
see if they could duplicate Draper’s technique for wiretapping calls with a blue box. They 
succeeded. According to a teletype from the Los Angeles FBI office, the group “was able to 
intercept numerous telephone calls in progress of the San Francisco office [. . .] through 
utilization of a conventional blue box.” As if it wasn’t bad enough that the FBI’s phone calls 
could be intercepted at all, the word “conventional” here was particularly chilling. It meant that 
the box Eder obtained from Draper wasn’t “sophisticated” or anything special. In other words, 
anyone who owned a blue box was able to eavesdrop on San Francisco FBI telephone calls, 
as well as calls in other parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. All that was needed was the 
magic code “1 27” and the telephone number that was to be intercepted. 

The Los Angeles office requested additional pieces of silver for Eder: “Los Angeles believes 
[Eder] has performed a valuable service for the Bureau and accordingly should be 
compensated,” agents wrote, describing Eder’s work as “outstanding.” 

Eder met with his FBI handlers in San Francisco a few days later, on July 21 , and turned over 
the blue box he’d purchased from Draper. He reported that “the phone freak underground has 
the capability of monitoring calls throughout the country” by using the verification technique. 

Eder further reported, “The phone freak underground currently is not selling information 
obtained from the intercept technique.” An FBI memo continued, “[Eder] does not know how 
widespread the phone freak underground is or who the contacts, if any, are with the telephone 
companies or the affiliates there. [. . .] As a source of income, the underground is manufacturing 
and selling ‘red boxes’ in large quantities. These boxes duplicate the tones generated by coins 
deposited in pay telephones. Through the use of ‘red boxes’ an individual is able to make long 
distance call[s] without depositing money. These boxes cost the underground $6 or $7 to 
manufacture and are currently retailing on the street at $100. All money obtained from the sale 
of red boxes is going towards purchase of technical equipment for further research.” 

Swell. Just swell. A shadowy underground organization made up of technical wizards — 
wizards who might have spies within the phone company — can monitor your calls from 
anywhere and who might, if they chose, sell the results of their wiretapping to the highest 
bidder. And who might that bidder be? The Yippies? The mob? The Russians? Who knows? 

San Francisco FBI agents contacted Assistant U.S. Attorney F. Steele Langford to discuss 
prosecuting Draper for wiretapping. The meeting didn’t go well for the G-men. Langford thought 
there was “insufficient information to consider any action against Draper and that the identity of 
the ‘blue box’ manufacturer [was] still unknown.” He kicked things upstairs, saying he would 
defer his opinion on the matter to his bosses in the Department of Justice in Washington. 

Part of Langford’s reluctance probably stemmed from the fact that the government’s star 
witness in the matter, Chic Eder, was an informant in several different cases. Nobody wanted to 
put Eder on the stand since it would blow his cover and compromise other investigations. 

Meanwhile, Bill Harward, head of the Radio Engineering Section of the FBI lab in 

Washington, D.C., had been working with Ken Hopper at Bell Laboratories to see if they, too, 
could duplicate Draper’s wiretapping technique. As with Walter Schmidt at General Telephone 
in California, they found it worked like a charm — at least for intercepting phones in the San 
Francisco Bay Area — and could be done from the East and West Coasts. It was unclear if this 
problem existed in places other than San Francisco. Harward reported in a memo that Hopper 
was “most anxious that this condition be corrected as soon as possible and has stated that Bell 
resources will be made fully available on the authority of the highest level of management.” 
Harward suggested that the FBI make a formal request to AT&T to assess the vulnerability of 
the telephone network in other parts of the country and to explain exactly what steps were 
being taken to fix the problem. In addition, he recommended that every FBI field office be 
alerted via teletype that phone calls to all offices could be wiretapped and that they should be 
“extremely cautious in use of the telephone.” 

As a result of Harward’s memo, on July 23, Clarence M. Kelley, the director of the FBI, 
penned a note to John D. deButts, chairman of the board of AT&T. 

Dear Mr. deButts: 

I am advised that information just developed and confirmed discloses a condition which permits any knowledgeable 
person using a blue box to intercept and monitor telephone conversations to and from the San Francisco FBI Office, 
and other subscribers in that area. 

This is a most alarming situation and I request the full cooperation of your organization and its resources to assess 
the possibility for similar conditions elsewhere and to take immediate corrective action wherever they exist. 

It is requested that, for the purpose of this effort, liaison with the FBI Laboratory, Washington, D. C., be established 
in order that I may be kept advised of pertinent results. 

The next day the FBI lab director Jay Cochran received a telephone call from Joe Doherty, 
AT&T’s director of corporate security. Doherty said that AT&T was aware of the problem, that it 
was now fixed in San Francisco, and that instructions had gone out to remove the capability 
from any AT&T facilities where it still existed. In a memo to his bosses at the FBI Cochran 
noted, in his best passive-voice Bureauspeak, “It is pointed out that we have received prior 
assurances from AT&T that procedures such as discovered [in this case] are not possible. It is 
also pointed out that the condition developed in this case was developed by FBI investigation 
and not from any information furnished by the telephone company. [. . .] In view of the past 
record of AT&T in this area, we feel a stronger, more positive position, must be taken in the 
absence of any constructive offering from [AT&T].” Cochran later described Doherty’s attitude 
during this call as “rather ‘ho-hum’ and appeared calculated to downplay the gravity of the 

The FBI informally approached the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board to let its 
members know of the problem. A PFIAB representative said that they “would undoubtedly be 
sympathetic with any strong initiatives that the FBI might take ... to insure the security of 

Meanwhile another issue came up. Chic Eder needed to get his blue box back from the FBI 
so he could maintain credibility with Draper. (You can imagine the conversation: “Hey, Chic, 
where’s that box I made for you?” “Oh, uh, sorry, John, I’m sure it’s around here somewhere . . . 
oh, that’s right, I loaned it to some friends at the FBI! Urn, no, I mean, uh. Crap.”) A small 
blizzard of memos bounced back and forth among those in the FBI lab, the Legal Division, HQ, 
and various field offices to figure out how to handle the situation. Do we really want to give the 
bad guys back a piece of equipment that they can use to tap our phones? But wait a minute, the 
bad guys made the equipment in the first place. If we don’t give it back they’ll just make another 
one. And besides, Eder is our informant, he’s not a bad guy. But Eder has friends who might 
borrow it who are bad guys. Plus, wasn’t it used in the commission of a crime? Isn’t it evidence 
at this point? How would we maintain evidence chain of custody if we give it back? 

This dilemma continued until late August 1975 when FBI agents again met with U.S. 
Attorney Langford in San Francisco. Per instructions from FBI HQ they explained that Eder was 
“a most valuable informant to the FBI who will not testify” in any legal proceedings but that they 
wanted to get the blue box back to him so they could continue their efforts to “penetrate the 
underground phone phreaks.” Langford stated that, as there were no witnesses — or at least 
none willing to testify — there could be no prosecution. Therefore FBI could dispose of the blue 
box or any other evidence as it saw fit, so long as the recipient didn’t use it. 

No prosecution. Really? Draper can wiretap the FBI and just get away with it? 

Up the chain of command went the word that the U.S. attorney wasn’t going to prosecute. 
Down came word from the Department of Justice: “Departmental Attorney Kline, after reviewing 
the matter, desired to know whether any of the telephone companies involved are actively 
pursuing investigation ... in order to establish Fraud by Wire investigations.” In other words, 
remember how we got Al Capone for tax evasion when we couldn’t get him for murder? If we 
can’t get Draper for wiretapping us, maybe we can take him down for making free phone calls. 
Let’s see if the phone companies don’t have something on him in that regard. 

The answer was no. Pacific Telephone’s security office in Los Angeles said the company 
was “vitally interested” in determining whether Draper was phreaking, but until Draper moved to 
Los Angeles and started to phreak there would be no investigating him. General Telephone’s 
security office in Los Angeles said much the same. New York Telephone’s security office said 
its investigators followed Draper’s activities by reading the TAP newsletter but “did not have 
him under investigation on specific fraud by wire charges.” And Pacific Telephone’s San Jose 
security office — the office in charge of security in the area where Draper actually lived — simply 
said that it was “not taking any further investigative action” toward him. 

AT&T claimed it had fixed the problem, the star witness wouldn’t testify, the U.S. attorney had 
declined prosecution, and not even the phone company was following up on things. A month 
passed. Somebody at the Justice Department poked someone at FBI HQ. You-know-what 
rolled downhill, toward San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, on November 17, 1975. 

For the information of receiving offices, the [Justice] Department continues to maintain an interest in this matter. 

San Francisco should timely submit letterhead memoranda, by cover airtel, reporting results of efforts to penetrate 
“underground phone freaks” pursuant to instructions set forth in referenced Bureau air telegram, 9/18/1975. These 
communications should [. . .] relate exclusively to investigation regarding penetration of “phone freaks.” 

Consideration should be given to potential prosecution for violations of Fraud by Wire Statutes should this become 

The change in strategy was now official. The focus of the investigation was now on 
penetrating the underground phone phreaks and getting Fraud by Wire prosecutions. The 
wiretapping business might have started it but that wasn’t how it was going to end. 



r hone phreaks live to solve puzzles. They spend time observing, gathering data, thinking, 
and inventing theories about how things fit together. They think up experiments — things they 
can try — to solve whatever puzzle they’re working on. They get a little dopamine hit when they 
get it figured out. And that dopamine hit is the kick that causes them to rinse and repeat. 

What’s funny is that you can replace the phrase “phone phreak” with “FBI agent” or 
“telephone company security officer” in the preceding paragraph and it would be just as true. 

Figuring out a new phone hack, catching a bad guy: same same, at least as far as the brain’s 
neurotransmitter receptors are concerned. 

Phone phreak or cop, most of the observing, data gathering, and experimenting that either 
one does is a long, tedious process of running down leads — the 99 percent perspiration that 
made Thomas Edison a wealthy man. 

Other times, though, you get lucky and something drops into your lap that cracks things wide 
open. If you’re a phone phreak, this might be a purloined manual that tells you something of 
how the telephone network works, or perhaps an anonymous voice on a long-distance loop- 
around circuit who tells you how to do something you had been trying to figure out for months. 

For the FBI and Pacific Telephone and their case against John Draper, that lucky break 
would turn out to be a young phone phreak from Los Angeles. 

Wayne Perrin was a Pacific Telephone lifer. That wasn’t his plan, it just happened that way. 
Perrin was a big man, almost six-foot-two and 220 pounds, but he came across as affable and 
friendly rather than imposing; perhaps his sandy reddish hair, hazel eyes, and easygoing 
manner helped with this. Perrin had wanted to be a cop, and while waiting for a job with the 
local police force in 1965 he took a temporary gig with the phone company as a lineman, 
climbing telephone poles and such. He was good at it and was quickly promoted. He stayed 
with the phone company and also worked as a reserve police officer for the city of Alhambra, 
just east of Los Angeles. Then, in 1971 at the age of twenty-nine, opportunity knocked. There 
was an opening in the telephone company’s chief special agent’s office in Pasadena. Perrin 
became a telephone cop. 

Along with the other telephone cops in that office, Perrin was responsible for investigating 
security problems for the phone company in the greater Los Angeles area. Very few of these 
investigations had anything to do with phone phreaks or electronic toll fraud. More often it was 
pay phone or office burglaries, petty cash theft, vandalism, or dealing with a traffic accident 
involving a company vehicle, pretty much the same stuff that security people at all large 
companies handle. 

The latter half of 1975 has been unusually busy. In just six months Pacific Telephone’s Los 
Angeles area had been caught up in a vortex of telephone crime. But it wasn’t just that it was 
unusually busy, it was that the crimes were just plain weird. Someone had figured out a way to 
hack the 611 repair service phone number to make free phone calls all over the world. 
Meanwhile, telephone company truck yards were being burglarized, and the things being 
stolen were items such as telephone company hard hats, tools, and “test sets” — the odd-looking 
telephones with alligator clips that telephone company repair people always have on their tool 

“We didn’t have a clue. No clue,” Perrin recalls. “We had all these little cases. You knew they 
were related in a fashion but you couldn’t tie them. . . . We had trucks being broken into, we had 
Dumpster diving, the Valley was just rife with petty thievery. Test sets were taken. Books were 
taken. Manuals were taken. Wire is taken. Nothing of great value, but they would go in and take 
this stuff. So you’re looking at this trying to figure it out.” And not getting anywhere. 

Then there were the really strange cases, the ones that made no sense at all. Like the 
$21 ,000 worth of telephone calls that had been fraudulently charged to one Dr. Bosley in what 
appeared to be a giant, multistate, nineteen-hour-long conference call over the course of a 
weekend. Or the late-night telephone calls to telephone company employees in Pacific 
Telephone’s Simi Valley and Panorama City offices, a creepy mixture of obscene, stalkative 
calls to operators peppered with threats of physical violence and bomb blasts. Strangest of all, 
some of the bomb threats were then followed by calls to law enforcement by someone 
pretending to be a telephone company security officer investigating the matter — or, in some 

cases, the reverse: calls would be made to the telephone company security office by someone 
pretending to be a law enforcement officer. 

All this left Perrin scratching his head. Who would do this, and why? 

Whoever was doing this was calling telephone operators to make these threats simply by 
dialing 0. You would think that when you call a telephone operator, the operator would have 
your telephone number. You’d think that the operators would be able to look up Mr. Harassing 
Caller and hand all of his info directly to security and then Perrin and Company could swoop 
down on this guy. Problem solved. 

Sounds great in theory but in practice it didn’t seem to work that way, at least not in 1975 in 
certain parts of Los Angeles, and at least not with this caller. The one clue they had — that their 
harassing caller would sometimes identify himself as “Robert P. Norden” — didn’t seem to be as 
helpful as you might think. They didn’t seem to be able to find any service records under that 

On November 19, 1 975, at 3:55 a.m., “Norden” called the Panorama City office. This time the 
phone company held his line. When your line is held it means that you can’t hang up. Or, more 
accurately, you can hang up but it won’t disconnect your call. When you pick the phone back 
up, instead of getting a dial tone you’re still connected to the person you called or you get no 
dial tone at all. 

This is a very disconcerting thing, and if you’re a telephone prankster it’s like a creepy phone 
call in reverse. Imagine yourself making a late-night harassing phone call, thinking you’re 
powerful and anonymous and king of the world, and then finding that your phone has 
inexplicably turned on you. You can’t hang up. No matter what you do you’re stuck. Your 
intended victim has you by the tail and won’t let go. 

His line was held for hours and hours. Eventually he got up the nerve to go to another phone 
and call the telephone company to find out what was going on. He ended up speaking with 
Perrin’s security colleague Bill Cheney and demanded to know why his line was being held. 
Cheney gave his best telephonic shrug and told him that probably there was trouble on his 
phone line and perhaps he should call his local repair service. As soon as he hung up Cheney 
called the test board supervisor and explained the situation. As expected, “Norden” called 
repair service. He was told that his line was being checked for trouble. 

Meanwhile the phone company was feverishly trying to find out whose phone line it was 
holding. Normally this would be simple. Back in those days every phone line coming into a 
central office had a “line card,” a three by five-inch note card that had on it all the information 
about the telephone line — information like whose line it was, for example. But his line card was 
missing. It wasn’t in the 611 repair bureau file where it should have been. The next logical 
place would be the telephone company business office, but that didn’t open until later in the 
morning. And once it opened, employees there said they didn’t have it either. 

The phone company finally released his line that afternoon, almost twelve hours later. “No 
one could find any records,” Perrin says. As it turned out, a business office representative 
named Angie had the line card in her desk. “She was having other problems with that guy, so 
she had locked it up. So we couldn’t find anything about it until Angie actually got into the 
office. Had they had the line card we would have had him right away.” 

One thing you may have noticed by now about phone phreaks is that they’re obsessive. True 
to form, that night he again called the Panorama City office, this time to complain about his line 
being held the night before. But this time Perrin was ready and had arranged for a trap on the 
line that would allow him to trace the call. Finally, he had an address and telephone number for 
this mystery caller. 

“Mr. Norden” must have known the jig was close to being up at that point. “He got scared,” 

says Perrin. Two days later he called the phone company and canceled his telephone service. 
Three days after that, Perrin says, he seemed to have a full-fledged panic attack. They were on 
to him, it seemed clear. Better to switch sides now, he must have thought, while the switching 
was good. 

On November 24, 1975, “Robert P. Norden” picked up the phone and called Wayne Perrin. 
Over the course of a wide-ranging two-hour conversation, Perrin wrote, he “related numerous 
items concerning toll fraud involving 611 toll trunks, toll fraud concerning the use of call 
diverters, a scramble-descrambling method used to monitor telephone conversations at any 
location in the country and his ability to access numerous kinds of telephonically secure 
systems.” That fateful phone call began his new career as an informant, perhaps the single 
most effective phone phreak informant that the telephone company ever had. 

The two met and spoke numerous times over the next several weeks. “Norden” was 
convinced the phone company was “three days away” from swooping down and arresting him. 
They weren’t, says Perrin, but since “Norden’s” worries made him talkative and anxious to 
cooperate, Perrin wasn’t about to correct him in this regard. Perrin described this paranoid 
phone phreak as being in his “early twenties, five-foot-eleven, approximately 145 to 150 
pounds, dark brown hair and eyes, extremely grubby” with hair that “comes to the shoulders, 
sideburns down to the chin line with a partial muttonchop.” Perrin’s notes give a bit of insight 
into his psyche. 

Mr. Norden, often times, loses sight of his perspective, he attempts to keep everything on a “we, he, they” basis but 
often times gets so involved in his descriptions he changes to “I” and “me” [. . .] If you catch it, he will finally admit to you 
on a rough basis that he was actually involved or did the act. He is extremely egotistical, very easy to work with if you 
do not apply any pressure. You can question him subtly, if you question him violently he will react and want to back off. 
Mr. Norden is extremely nervous about being followed or whisked away by Secret Service or CIA or FBI. He is so 
paranoid about the situation that he looks over his shoulder at everything and anybody, with the exception of young 

Finally, after many meetings, Perrin learned “Norden’s” real name: Paul Sheridan.*** 

*** A pseudonym. 

Perrin didn’t know what to make of Sheridan, this unkempt and unsettled kid who made 
outlandish claims about all the crazy things he could do with a telephone. He had mastered all 
sorts of telephone tricks and was thoroughly plugged in to the Los Angeles phone phreak 
scene. He seemed to know everyone, from the kids who hung out on LA loop arounds to the 
John Drapers and Bill Ackers of the world. But Sheridan brought an intensity and an 
intelligence to his endeavors that not everyone had. He was quick-witted, foulmouthed, verbally 
gifted, and had a telephonic self-confidence — really more of an arrogance — that made him a 
talented social engineer. Being able to make free phone calls was apparently the least of his 
skills. Sheridan admitted to being part of the Santa Barbara nuclear hoax a few years earlier. 
He said he could wiretap phone calls with a blue box. He bragged of breaking into the military’s 
telephone network and getting the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska, 
on the horn. He could scramble nuclear bombers by doing this, he claimed. He said he had a 
special 800 number that went directly to the White House; he boasted that he could get 
President Ford on the line any time he wanted. In fact, he claimed, he had spoken to the 
president several times by phone. 

The president? Really? 

“We did not believe that,” Perrin recalls. So Perrin and his colleague Bill Cheney decided to 
try it out. They got the 800 number from Sheridan and gave it a try from their office in Pasadena. 
“Here’s two grown adult men, we’re sitting in Cheney’s office, and we dial that number up and 
we got right to the second floor of the White House. It scared the crap out of us! We hung up!” 

That was the problem, really. It would be easy enough to dismiss these crazy things 

Sheridan was saying, but they all seemed as if either they actually were true or they might be 
true. It was a great combination — claims that were impossible to discount and disturbing as 

Among Sheridan’s most disturbing claims was that phone phreaks could break into autovon. 
Though it sounds like a German highway, autovon — short for Automatic Voice Network — was 
the U.S. military’s telephone network. It started in the United States in the early 1960s but later 
expanded into other countries where the United States had military bases. 

For the most part autovon looked and felt like the plain old telephone network that civilians 
used. This was no great surprise.AUTOVON was built by AT&T, General Telephone, and 
Automatic Electric, the same companies that built the civilian telephone network, and they 
reused as much technology as they could, autovon telephone numbers were seven or ten 
digits long, just like normal ones. Internally, autovon used multifrequency signaling, just as the 
civilian network did. You could even call into the regular telephone system from autovon, 
though you weren’t supposed to be able to go the other way. 

However, autovon had some features that made admirals and generals, network engineers, 
and phone phreaks salivate. Put into operation just a year after the Cuban missile crisis, 
autovon was a child of the cold war, a telephone network designed to withstand a nuclear 
attack. The civilian telephone system was built on Bell’s hierarchical network concept, one in 
which lower-level switching centers forwarded calls to higher-level ones. The higher-level 
switches, the brainy ones like 4A crossbars, had lots of trunks to other cities. This approach 
made economic sense, because it minimized the number of switching centers and long- 
distance lines you needed. But it made military planners worry. What if the higher-level 
switching centers got taken out by Russian nukes? Civilian telephone central offices were what 
the military called “soft targets”; they might be solid buildings but they simply weren’t designed 
to withstand a nearby nuclear blast. 

What the military needed, the Pentagon decided, was a “survivable” telephone system, one 
that could survive a nuclear war. With help from the phone company, the Defense 
Communications Agency began constructing its own network of telephone switching centers, 
about seventy of them throughout the United States. Many of these were underground, in 
hardened bunkers. Unlike the civilian telephone network, autovon was nonhierarchical; there 
were many more trunk lines between autovon switches than in the civilian network, and they 
tried to minimize the importance of any one switch. That way the Soviets couldn’t take out just a 
couple of switching centers and bring down the entire military phone system. 

The other unique thing about autovon was something called “precedence.” In the 1960s, the 
civilian telephone network wasn’t as developed as it is today; there just weren’t enough long- 
distance telephone circuits. So sometimes you’d try to make a long-distance call and you’d be 
treated to a recording telling you, primly, “We’re sorry, all circuits are busy now. Won’t you 
please try your call again later?” 

That didn’t sit well with the military brass. If you’re calling the president to let him know the 
country was under attack, you don’t want to have to listen to any recordings about all circuits 
being busy. So the Defense Communications Agency and its telephone company contractors 
came up with a scheme called precedence dialing, the idea being that some calls are more 
important than others. If you’re ordering pizza, that’s low precedence. If you’re reporting war 
with the Soviets, that’s high precedence. If the network was busy, higher-precedence calls 
trump lower-precedence calls, automatically booting them and seizing their lines if necessary to 
get the important traffic through. This led to autovon touch-tone phones having sixteen buttons, 
not just the twelve we’re used to. These extra buttons weren’t just any buttons. They were shiny 
and red, arranged in a neat military column to the right of the keypad. They were labeled, 

cryptically, “FO,” “F,” “I,” and “P.” 

That is: Flash Override. Flash. Immediate. Priority. The precedence levels, in other words. 
Flash Override was the highest precedence, to be used only by the president, secretary of 
defense, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or commanders reporting an attack on the United 

Be honest. Who doesn’t want a phone on his desk with a Flash Override button? Even if 
you’re just ordering a pizza, wouldn’t it make you feel good to press Flash Override first? 
Nothing says “I’m important” like Flash Override. 

autovon was an ego blow job delivered via a sixteen-button keypad. The admirals and 
generals loved it. So did the network engineers. And so did the phone phreaks. It was, after all, 
another network — one with cool buttons — to explore. 

Perrin struggled with what to do about Sheridan. “Fie would call in. Fie would talk so fast, you 
couldn’t write fast enough, so we recorded everything that he gave us and then later on we 
transcribed it and we just told him that we wrote fast,” Perrin recalls. “Fie was telling you things . 
. . I mean, he starts telling you stuff about getting into the Russian satellite system and I have no 
idea about the Russian satellite system. I mean, I didn’t even know about autovon. So from the 
standpoint of its functionality and those kinds of things, he was talking way past what I could 

Perrin spent a day or two trying to figure out what to do. Finally he decided to get the FBI 
involved. The Bureau might have a better idea of how to handle things. And maybe it was 
hooked up with technical spooks who might be better able to evaluate Sheridan’s claims. 
Perrin met with the FBI on December 5, 1975. He gave their agents an overview of the 
Sheridan matter and described the various outlandish claims that Sheridan had made. Perrin 
felt that there was enough information on Sheridan at this point to charge him with threatening 
to “bomb the telephone company” — remember the creepy late-night phone calls and bomb 
threats that started this whole thing — but he wasn’t sure if that was the right way to go. Perhaps 
the FBI had some ideas. Maybe they could call Strategic Air Command in Omaha or the Secret 
Service in Washington and check some of this stuff out? 

The FBI agents didn’t seem to take things very seriously, Perrin says. They told him that they 
would get back to him. 

Meanwhile, the question of what to do about Sheridan was also making its way up the food 
chain within the telephone company. Pacific Telephone, where Perrin worked, was the Bell 
System’s West Coast operating company. Like all the local Bell companies, it reported to 
AT&T, its corporate parent, at 195 Broadway in New York City. Pacific Telephone decided to 
get AT&T involved, since Sheridan was talking about things that were bigger than just 
California, things like autovon and defense systems and satellites. In turn, the higher-ups at 
AT&T corporate headquarters decided they needed to talk to the Justice Department about it, 
since United States government communications were involved. AT&T higher-ups had throw 
weight. A meeting was soon scheduled with the attorney general in Washington, D.C., on 
December 17, 1975. In the meantime, AT&T decided that this matter was to be held in the 
strictest confidence. And that meant Perrin couldn’t talk to anyone about it anymore. Anyone, 
Perrin asked? Did that include the FBI? Anyone. 

Physics teaches us that the fastest thing in the universe is the speed of light. Common sense 
and organizational politics teach us the fastest thing is actually the rumor mill. So it was no 
surprise, Perrin says, that the FBI somehow instantly got word that its bosses at the Justice 
Department would soon be meeting with AT&T officials regarding this Sheridan kid. Suddenly 
the FBI was very interested. It was suddenly decided the Bureau needed to talk to Perrin 
immediately. But now Perrin couldn’t talk to the Bureau. Perrin put the FBI off until the meeting 

with the attorney general, where it was decided, predictably, that the FBI was the right agency 
for the phone company to work with on this matter. 

On December 22, 1975, Perrin took Sheridan to meet with Special Agent Bob Jacobs. 
Jacobs was one of the FBI Los Angeles tech squad or “sound” agents. He and his fellow tech 
squad agents were responsible for the Bureau’s high-tech field ops in the Los Angeles area, 
things like wiretaps, room bugs, and car tracking devices. Jacobs and Sheridan seemed to hit it 
off. Among other things they discussed Sheridan visiting Draper in person next week. Could 
Sheridan bring back information or documents from Draper? Maybe. Could the Bureau help 
Sheridan out a little bit with his rent? Maybe. 

On January 7, 1976, Perrin met with Special Agent Bill Snell, one of Jacob’s FBI tech squad 
colleagues. Sheridan’s visit to Draper had born fruit. Snell gave Perrin a four-page typeset 
technical document that Sheridan had gotten from Draper titled “autovon Access Info.” 
Sheridan even offered to demonstrate the techniques described in the document for the FBI 
and AT&T if they wanted. Sheridan also told the FBI that Draper had a small assembly line 
going for red boxes that were to be sold in the near future. He was actively using a blue box 
from the house across the street from People’s Computer Company, or PCC, a small nonprofit 
in Menlo Park dedicated to teaching people about computers. And Draper was also red boxing 
from a pay phone just down the street from PCC, Sheridan reported. 

The autovon document caused quite a stir. It described, in detail, how to use a blue box to 
access the military’s phone system from the civilian telephone network via a phreaking 
technique called guard banding. Guard banding added a higher-pitched tone — usually 3,200 
Hz, or seventh octave G — into the 2,600 Hz normally used by a blue box to reset a trunk line. If 
your call went through several telephone switches, guard banding allowed you to control 
exactly which switch you were talking to, simply by varying the volume of this higher-pitched 
tone. This in turn meant that you could stack tandems, building up a call to a particular place 
one link — in other words, one telephone switch — at a time. This was similar to the tandem 
stacking technique described in the Esquire article, but guard banding was a newer and more 
powerful method that worked on a wider variety of telephone switches, including the brainy 4A 
toll tandems. 

Sheridan’s document explained how guard banding could be used to hack into autovon. 
First you call directory assistance in Alaska and whistle off with 2,600 Hz. You’re now talking to 
a civilian telephone switch in Alaska that also happened to have connections to the military’s 
autovon telephone network. You’d then use your blue box to tell the Alaska switch to connect 
you to a military telephone switch at Kalakaket Radio Relay Station in Alaska, originally part of 
the military’s Arctic communication system for the Distant Early Warning line. You’d then use 
guard banding to send a mix of 2,600 Hz and 3,200 Hz down the line. This skips over the 
Alaska switch and instead resets your connection to the Kalakaket Creek switch, which then 
waits for your commands. You now use your blue box to send Kalakaket Creek digits to get you 
to Pedro Dome Radio Relay Station, also in Alaska. By adding this second link on to your call, 
you’re now fully inside the military’s network; as far as Pedro Dome is concerned, you came in 
from the U.S. Air Force network via Kalakaket Creek station and thus look like a completely 
legitimate military telephone user. This means you can now tell Pedro Dome to connect you to 
whatever autovon telephone number you want. You can even set the precedence of your call, 
from routine up to Flash Override, just by sending the right digits with your blue box. 

AT&T representatives met with the FBI in Washington, D.C., on January 9 to discuss the 
autovon problem. AT&T Long Lines security supervisor Nelson Saxe recalls, “The FBI’s 
biggest concern was: can the phone phreaks scramble fighters by using autovon?” AT&T 
hastened to assure them that this wasn’t possible; it might be possible to order pilots to their 

aircraft using autovon, but any orders to actually launch aircraft would have to come over a 
separate, point-to-point alerting network called JCSAN/COPAN. And the phone phreaks hadn’t 
broken into JCSAN/COPAN. Well, not as far as anyone knew, anyway. 

As these things go, it was not the most reassuring of reassurances. 

Discussion turned to Sheridan’s offer to demonstrate autovon access. The FBI favored a 
demo in Los Angeles, and soon. Saxe’s notes from the meeting show that agents in the FBI’s 
Los Angeles office felt Sheridan was “mentally unstable” and might “go off” at any time. Who 
knew how long they had to work with him? AT&T attorneys were against a Sheridan demo, 
arguing that the less contact anyone had with the informant the better. After all, how were they 
going to successfully prosecute Sheridan if he could later stand up in court and tell the jury, 
“Not only did the phone company and FBI know I was playing with the autovon network, they 
asked me to demonstrate it to them!” And since the FBI and AT&T now had a detailed 
document describing exactly how to break into autovon, why did they need a demonstration 
from Sheridan? Couldn’t the engineers at Bell Labs just duplicate his attack on their own? In 
fact, it wasn’t clear that Sheridan himself had actually ever accessed autovon. He simply may 
have gotten the information from Draper and might not actually know how to do it himself. It 
wouldn’t help anybody if there really was a security vulnerability in autovon, but Sheridan 
convinced them all otherwise by botching the demo. As Saxe put it, “We’re not about to go out 
to Los Angeles to see Sheridan fail to get a call through on autovon!” 

In the end, the FBI was holding all the cards that mattered; the Bureau had the informant and 
it wanted a demo. If the AT&T people didn’t want to attend, well, that was AT&T’s business. 

AT&T relented. Plans began forming for a joint FBI-AT&T demo of autovon hackery in Los 
Angeles in a week or two. 



I he same month that Paul Sheridan was starting his career as an informant for both Pacific 
Telephone and the FBI and being asked to take trips up to the Bay Area to snuffle around John 
Draper, the December 1975 issue of the phone phreak newsletter TAP carried the following 
letter to the editor. 

Dear TAP, 

This is Capn. Crunch, I would like to mention a few things. 

First, I’m glad to see you boys back in operation & am curious why you stopped publication for a while. I also want 
to state my willingness in contacting as many would-be phreaks as possible. In person only & not by mail. Therefore I 
am offering to anyone who wants to come see me in Mt. View all I know in electronics, computers, & related 
technologies including freaking of course. However I dislike talking on the phone, nor communication by mail. If you 
even receive this letter I would consider it a miracle. My current address is: J. T. Draper, 1905 Montecito Ave., Apt. #6, 
Mt. View, CA 94040 for those who want to set up a meeting by mail. Of course I am not underground. A while back 
National Review published my phone number in the hopes that people would bug me by calling me at 3 am etc. They 
didn’t realize that I made hundreds of new friends & taught hundreds the art of freaking. Any people who want to visit 
me are welcome. They can stay with me up to a week (it usually takes that long to teach them). You might want to 
publish that fact. 

The letter, which continued on in that vein, was a wonderful example of why David Condon’s 
circle of Berkeley phone phreaks viewed association with Draper as the “kiss of death.” Multiple 
sources, including General Telephone’s security office in Los Angeles, promptly forwarded the 
December issue of TAP to the FBI, where it served as a reminder, as if they needed one, that 

Draper was still out there, busy minting new phone phreaks. Who knew what tricks he was 
teaching them? 

By January 1976 a dark vibe had begun to spread throughout certain groups of phone 
phreaks in both California and New York. Phreaks who used to talk freely were now being 
cagey or simply not returning calls. Discussions that used to be about the latest telephone 
hacks were now concerned with something more malodorous: who’s the rat? Several people 
believed something unwholesome was happening down in LA, but nobody could prove 
anything. Paranoia levels were beginning to run at record highs. 

In fact, something unwholesome was happening that month down in LA — from a phone 
phreak perspective, anyway. It was the FBI-AT&T autovon demo, and it took place from 
Wednesday, January 21, 1976, through Friday, January 23, at the FBI’s Los Angeles field 

Team fed was made up of thirteen heavy hitters. From the FBI there was Jay Cochran, the 
assistant director of the FBI Laboratory in Washington, D.C.; R. E. Gebhardt, the assistant 
director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office; Bill Harward, the section chief of radio 
engineering from FBI headquarters; and Bob Jacobs and Bill Snell, the FBI tech squad special 
agents who had been Sheridan’s FBI handlers. From the local telephone companies there was 
Bill Bowren, the security director of Pacific Telephone in Los Angeles; Roger Edfast, the 
security manager of Pacific Telephone in Pasadena; Walter Schmidt from General Telephone; 
and, of course, Wayne Perrin. From AT&T, there was Chuck Israel, the autovon network 
manager; Nelson Saxe, the AT&T Long Lines security supervisor; and Ken Hopper from Bell 
Laboratories. Finally, there was a gentleman from Washington, D.C., who is notable for how his 
name and organization are blanked out of every government document describing the meeting: 
a Mr. B. A. Fonger from the National Security Agency. 

The two phone phreaks attending, Paul Sheridan and a clean-cut twenty-something phreak 
described only as Michael, ±i± were heavily outnumbered. Michael was a talented, technically 
sharp Los Angeles-area phone hacker who had served as a sort of technical adviser to the FBI 
on a wiretap case some years earlier. The two phreaks were brought in separately so as not to 
have contact with each other. Figuring the phreaks might be somewhat more talkative if they 
weren’t surrounded by so many feds, the interrogators split into two groups. Harward, Hopper, 
Israel, Saxe, and the two FBI agents Jacobs and Snell would conduct the interviews in the 
same room as the subjects. A reel-to-reel tape recorder would record the room conversation as 
well as any telephone calls that were made. As the reels ran out of tape, every forty-five 
minutes or so, the tapes would be brought to a second conference room, where they would be 
listened to by Bowren, Cochran, Edfast, Fonger, Perrin, and Schmidt. 

tttA pseudonym. 

First up was Sheridan, who would give a guided tour of autovon access techniques. 

The big question was: could Sheridan really do what he claimed he could? Could he use a 
blue box to get into the military autovon network? Did this guard banding technique actually 
work? Sure, everybody understood that he might be able to get in to autovon by fooling an 
operator; that was slightly troubling but it wasn’t nearly as big a deal as being able to do it with 
a blue box. Sheridan had made lots of claims — lots of hair-raising claims. And now a whole lot 
of high-ranking people had gone out of their way to see these techniques demonstrated. Recall 
AT&T Long Lines security agent Saxe’s comment a few weeks earlier: “We’re not about to go 
out to Los Angeles to see Sheridan fail to get a call through on autovon!” 

Of course, Sheridan failed to get a call through on autovon. 

Well, that’s not entirely fair. In fact, Sheridan was able to get a call through by BSing an 
autovon operator. And he was able to demonstrate that guard banding worked. He also 

demonstrated a bunch of other phone phreak techniques. But despite multiple attempts he was 
unable to get into autovon by the guard banding method described in the paper he had given 
the FBI earlier in the month. Later that afternoon Michael, the second informant, tried a slightly 
different guard banding technique for hacking into autovon. It, too, failed. 

Yet both phreaks swore their techniques worked. 

This situation will be familiar to anyone who has ever had to give or sit through a demo of any 
new technology. There are entities known in Silicon Valley’s high-tech community as “the 
demo gods.” It is said that demo gods can smell fear. An important demo? An audience of 
VIPs? That’s when then demo gods suddenly appear and things mysteriously stop working. 

Fortunately for Sheridan and Michael, the more technical members of team fed were familiar 
with this phenomenon. That evening Fonger, Hopper, Israel, Saxe, and Schmidt adjourned to 
the General Telephone security laboratory in Santa Monica. Breaking out their (legal) blue 
boxes and test equipment, they sat down and tried to break into autovon using the techniques 
they had seen that day. It was a long process; had they been phone phreaks, they might even 
have enjoyed it. But finally, at 10:30 p.m., they succeeded in accessing autovon using a blue 
box. Ken Hopper’s notes convey the effort they put into it: “Our success in direct autovon 
dialing came after many, many fruitless attempts, perhaps as many as 100.” Given how difficult 
guard banding was until you got the hang of it, this was not entirely surprising. In addition, 
apparently part of the problem they had making it work was that that other people had been 
tying up the lines between Los Angeles and Seattle that very evening. Hopper suspected it was 
Sheridan and Michael, probably trying to prove to themselves that the techniques they had tried 
to demonstrate to the FBI earlier in the day still worked. 

Perrin remembers being woken up by a late-night phone call that evening from the engineers 
at the security lab: “It works, it works! This stuff really works!” Perrin wasn’t surprised. Despite 
Sheridan’s failure to hack into autovon earlier in the day, Perrin had developed a certain 
confidence in Sheridan’s claims ever since getting the White House on the phone. “What the 
hell are you calling me about? I already knew that,” Perrin recalls telling them. He hung up and 
went back to sleep. 

Just two miles from Stanford University, the 1 900 block of Menalto Avenue in Menlo Park was a 
collection of small storefronts on a tree-lined street in a mostly residential neighborhood. You 
wouldn’t have thought so from a casual glance but it was a nexus of nerdly activity. 

A fixture on the block was the electric vehicle pioneer Roy Kaylor. Kaylor was an inveterate 
tinkerer, a Stanford electrical engineer, an odd blend of hippie and West Point graduate. He 
had been building electric vehicles since 1 965; his “Kaylor Kits” converted Volkswagen Bugs to 
run on electric motors and batteries. He had a small store on Menalto where he sold electric 
motorcycles — in 1975. Kaylor’s house, just across the street and down the block from his 
electric motorcycle store, doubled as his shop and laboratory. His garage was filled with 
electronic test equipment and machine tools, everything to make a geeky heart beat faster. 

A few storefronts from Kaylor’s electric motorcycle shop was the People’s Computer 
Company. PCC was a sort of computer commune started in 1972 by personal computing 
pioneers Bob Albrecht and George Firedrake. “Computers are mostly used against people 
instead of for people; used to control people instead of to free them,” read PCC’s first 
newsletter. “Time to change all that — we need a . . . People’s Computer Company.” 

PCC became a watering hole for Silicon Valley’s budding personal computer scene. Of 
course, they weren’t called personal computers back then; that term wouldn’t be popular for 
years. They were “homebrew” computers, kits assembled from empty circuit boards and bags of 
electronic components, built one part at a time with solder and sweat and concentration. They 
were often enclosed in bulky aluminum boxes or homemade wooden enclosures, that is, when 

anyone bothered to enclose them in anything at all. The computers weren’t powerful; mostly all 
they could do is blink lights in response to toggle switch inputs. But for those bitten by the bug 
they were like crack cocaine. 

The People’s Computer Company took up two storefronts. It had computers around its 
periphery, a social space with a couch and rug in the center, and a potluck dinner every 
Wednesday night. The potlucks were a big draw, not to be missed events for microcomputer 
hobbyists in the Valley in 1975. Steve Wozniak was a frequent attendee; Bill Gates showed up 
on one occasion as well. Kaylor recalls a PCC potluck in which he tried to convince Wozniak 
that Woz should sell preassembled Apple I computers directly to the general public instead of 
as electronic kits to be assembled by computer geeks. Woz thought this was a hysterically 
funny idea — so funny, Kaylor says, that Woz actually fell off the couch laughing, rolling around 
on the rug of the People’s Computer Company, his belly laugh filling the room. 

John Draper became a frequent sight at the PCC, programming computers, building 
electronic gadgets, hanging out, smoking dope. He and Kaylor quickly became friends. “I was 
impressed with Draper’s diligence, his follow-through, his stick-to-itiveness,” Kaylor recalls. He 
knew Draper was building various colored phone phreak boxes and even let Draper use the 
electronics lab in his garage to work on them. But Kaylor made a point of not asking Draper too 
many questions. Kaylor had a security clearance for some defense work he had done, he says, 
and, as he later put it, “You learn in that environment that sometimes it’s better not to know 

In all, the 1900 block of Menalto was a perfect setup. There were plenty of interesting people 
to talk to, computers to hack on, soldering irons and multimeters and oscilloscopes to play with. 
There was a corner market a few doors down where you could buy snacks and soda. The 
Menalto Market even had a pay phone booth outside where you could call your friends — or test 
your red and blue boxes to make sure they were in tune. It was everything Draper needed. 

“It was decided that the investigation of Draper should be intensified.” Thus spake the passive- 
voice memo to the special agent in charge of the Los Angeles FBI office, summarizing the 
autovon demo and the skull session that followed. “As such, Assistant Director in Charge 
Cochran, Section Chief Harward, and Special Agents [. . .] should travel to San Francisco in 
order to brief the San Francisco FBI Field Office personally of the developments concerning 
telephone manipulations. In addition, conscientious efforts should be made to establish and 
cultivate informants in this area with regard to possible prosecution relating to interception of 
communications, anti-racketeering-interference of government communications, and interstate 
transportation of stolen property fraud by wire/computer fraud by wire.” 

A few days later, on January 27, FBI agents met with Pacific Telephone investigators in San 
Francisco to discuss the Draper investigation. Present were Assistant U.S. Attorney Floy 
Dawson, the FBI special agent in charge of the San Francisco office, his deputy, the assistant 
agent in charge, and seven other FBI agents. Three representatives from Pacific Telephone 
attended. The Pacific Telephone people said they would need to talk to their attorneys to figure 
out how they could help. For its part, the FBI started spot surveillances on Draper’s known 
haunts to get a handle on his activities. Agents were assigned to check two locations on a 
random basis. The first was Draper’s apartment in Mountain View. The second was the 
People’s Computer Company in Menlo Park. 

Draperism. That was John Draper’s term for what he viewed as the persistent bad luck that 
seemed to follow him around like a rain cloud. Draperism was never his fault, never the result of 
anything he had done. Like the weather, it was a purely external phenomenon, something that 
just happened. 

Whatever it was, the Wall Street Journal did Draper no favors when the newspaper ran a 
front-page story that same day — January 27, 1976 — titled “Blue Boxes Spread from Phone 
Freaks to the Well-Heeled.” It described the spread of the hobby from “electronics tinkerers who 
got a charge out of things like reaching the recorded weather report for Tokyo without paying for 
the call” to the mainstream, to “people who consider themselves basically honest.” It made 
Draper’s hobby sound like the Next Big Thing, one that was spreading like wildfire. 

On January 30 the FBI’s San Francisco office sent a high-priority teletype message to 
headquarters. As part of their “intensification” of the investigation against Draper, San 
Francisco agents had procured a tracking device that they were preparing to surreptitiously 
install on Draper’s car. That same day Pacific Telephone reported that equipment had been 
deployed that would enable the company to “detect any unusual or illegal telephone usage” at 
Kaylor’s house across the street from People’s Computer Company, as well as the pay phone 
down the street outside the Menalto Market. The FBI continued its “fisur” — Bureauspeak for 
physical surveillance — of Draper’s haunts over the next week. 

On February 10 the San Francisco office decided it was time to move the investigation along. 
“San Francisco has no sources who are phone phreaks,” read the draft of an urgent teletype 
message. Given this, San Francisco requested that Los Angeles send one of its phone phreak 
informants up to the Bay Area to visit Draper and “accomplish the following objectives.” 

What might those objectives be? We may never know. The FBI’s Freedom of Information Act 
office suffered an acute attack of shyness and blanked out the entire next page of the draft 
teletype message. But we can bet the objectives were mundane, certainly nothing exciting, 
because a few lines later, after the blanked-out material, the draft teletype message noted that 
Floy Dawson, the assistant U.S. attorney, “advised there would be no entrapment in the above.” 
What a relief! 

Except somebody in the FBI drew a line through that sentence on the draft teletype message 
— striking it out. A copy of the final teletype message as received at FBI headquarters shows 
that little exculpatory sentence never made it into the actual teletype message that was sent. 
Apparently Assistant U.S. Attorney Dawson did not advise that there would be no entrapment in 
the above or perhaps the FBI thought better of checking with him. Here’s a suggestion, by the 
way. If you’re ever in a position to document something that might appear to be sketchy — even 
if it’s perfectly legit — don’t leave drafts of emails or teletypes or memos in your files. And if you 
do, try to make sure they don’t have sentences that say things like “I checked with our lawyer 
and he says this is perfectly legal, whoops, actually, no, he didn’t say that, let me just draw a 
line through that sentence.” It just doesn’t look good. 

Whatever the San Francisco office agents were proposing, FBI agents in Los Angeles were 
not thrilled with it. Still, after some back and forth, Los Angeles finally agreed to send a phone 
phreak informant up to San Francisco. On Monday, February 23, an urgent teletype message 
from Los Angeles to San Francisco advised that the informant would drive up the next day and 
should arrive in the Bay Area late that afternoon. He was instructed to contact FBI agents in 
San Francisco upon his arrival. 

Perrin and Sheridan were spending a lot of time together. “He wasn’t a bad kid,” Perrin recalls. 
But, Perrin says, “you couldn’t shut him off. You couldn’t say, ‘Paul, I only talk to you at work,’ 
because he wanted to talk. He wanted a normal life.” Sheridan’s family situation was a 
shambles. “It fucked up way back when and it’s been fucked up ever since,” Perrin recalls 
Sheridan telling him. Sheridan’s parents were divorced and he had attended a reform school in 
Los Angeles where he had met other teenagers interested in telephone shenanigans. 

Perrin says he became a father figure of sorts. Sheridan often dropped by Perrin’s house 
during the investigation. “He’d come over here and he would be comfortable. He played 

basketball with my son and daughter and talked to them like he was a long-lost cousin. They 
were very nice to him, they liked him. But they knew he was somebody I was working a case 
on, and that he wasn’t normal. Kids can pick things up like that.” 

As much as the normalcy that Perrin was providing him, it was clear that Sheridan also liked 
the attention he was getting from switching sides. Imagine what it must have been like to have 
telephone company security officers and FBI special agents hanging on your every word, being 
dazzled by your feats and knowledge, even sending you on spy missions. Then, too, there was 
the money the FBI was paying him. Finally, Sheridan firmly believed that the phone company 
had been mere days away from having him arrested. By turning himself in, he must have 
figured, he was avoiding a much worse outcome. 

When Sheridan wasn’t playing basketball with Perrin’s kids, he could often be found on the 
couch in Perrin’s living room, or in a chair in a conference room at Pacific Telephone, being 
gently interrogated. “You didn’t have to lean on Paul real hard,” says Perrin. “Paul wanted you 
to be his friend. You had to imply that the world was coming to an end. If you threatened him 
— ‘listen, you son of a bitch’ — it didn’t work. But if you said, ‘Paul, look, I can’t keep these 
people off you for long, you’ve gotta work with me.’” 

The tape recordings and transcripts of Sheridan’s interrogations piled up over the weeks, first 
a handful, later more than a dozen. Sheridan wanted to please. Fie went through his notes and 
address book, combing them for information and then distilling it all down. It got to the point that 
the sessions were closer to dictation than interrogation — no questions being asked by Perrin, 
just Sheridan reading into the microphone from preprepared notes. Names and addresses of 
phone phreaks. Their specific phreaking activities. Recommendations for who should be 
investigated — “worked,” in security parlance — due to their “fucking around.” Recommendations 
for who the phone company should go easy on too. It was all there, all on tape. 

The address book Sheridan gave up contained more than sixty names and telephone 
numbers of phone phreaks. Over hours of interviews he provided additional details on more 
than fifty of them. Then there were the specific cases that Wayne Perrin and Pacific Telephone 
needed tied up. Remember the telephone crime wave that had hit the Valley, the burgled 
phone company trucks, the $21 ,000 conference call? All of those needed to be explained. The 
conference call was “Project 21,” Sheridan said, a prank against a certain Doctor Bosley who 
Sheridan and his buddies were pissed at for some reason. They arranged to use some 
telephone lines that belonged to Bosley over the course of a weekend to call all of their phone 
phreak friends around the world. It was nice to talk to their far-flung network for nineteen hours 
but the real purpose was to screw Doc Bosley. Flence Project 21 : a goal of racking up $21 ,000 
in phone bills for the good doctor. 

Then there were the telephone company employees. If you’re a phone phreak, where do you 
get your information? Dumpster diving, playing with the phone, talking to other phone phreaks? 
Sure, all that works. But sometimes it’s easier just to talk to people who actually work for the 
telephone company. Big surprise: some telco employees were phone phreaks too. Others just 
had a soft spot for a bright kid who wanted to know how the telephone system worked. 

Sheridan turned in five Pacific Telephone employees and one General Telephone 
employee, all in the Los Angeles area. Some of these employees were phone phreaks and had 
black boxes of their own. Some Sheridan claimed would use Pacific Telephone computer 
systems to turn on or off various features for him on his telephone line. Others provided 
technical information to him or other phreaks. An employee even gave him telephone company 
equipment. In at least one case Sheridan actually called a phone technician from Perrin’s 
conference room and got him to divulge confidential company information over the telephone 
while Perrin was listening from the sidelines. 

In the end, two Pacific Telephone employees were fired and two were suspended; the 
General Telephone employee’s name was passed on to GTE security. 

FBI headquarters wanted this case solved. Pacific Telephone had blue box detectors and tape 
recorders and dialed-number recorders and every other god damn thing on every telephone 
that Draper came anywhere near. FBI agents had Draper under surveillance morning, noon, 
and night. Draper doesn’t have the best judgment to begin with. And just in case Draper’s bad 
judgment can’t be relied upon, an informant was being sent up from Los Angeles to move 
things along. 

To this day, Draper maintains that he was framed. He says Sheridan came up from LA and 
attended a potluck dinner with him at the PCC. Sometime during the evening, Draper claims, 
Sheridan went outside to the pay phone next to the little market down the street from the PCC 
and made a blue box call. “I go out to the store and there he is, inside the pay phone booth,” 
Draper says, “but I didn’t see the blue box.” Draper remembers Sheridan calling him over to the 
pay phone — “Jim wants to talk to you, here, say hi to Jim” — and passing him the phone. “He 
hands the phone to me,” Draper says. “I say, ‘Hi Jim, what’s going on?”’ 

“Well, it turns out he had arranged with the FBI to tap that phone,” Draper says. “He told the 
FBI that I was going to be making a blue box call at that phone at that date and time.” The result 
was that the FBI now had a blue box call on tape with Draper’s voice on it. 

Given the pressure the FBI agents were under, given the teletype message in which the San 
Francisco FBI wanted an informant to come up from Los Angeles and “accomplish the following 
objectives” — the objectives that the assistant U.S. attorney didn’t sign off on, whatever they 
were — this all seems vaguely plausible. A stretch, perhaps, but plausible. But the dates don’t 
line up. 

You see, the informant that the Los Angeles office of the FBI sent up didn’t arrive in the Bay 
Area until Tuesday, February 24. The blue box telephone calls that Draper was eventually 
busted for occurred four days earlier, on Friday, February 20. And on that Friday the Los 
Angeles informant was still in Los Angeles, enjoying sunny southern California weather or 
breathing smog or whatever it is that LA phone phreak informants do when they’re off duty. 

According to Draper’s FBI file, an FBI special agent had Draper under surveillance on the 
Friday that the blue box phone calls were made. 

On February 20, 1 976 at 5:23 PM, John Draper was observed in a public phone booth adjacent to the Menalto Market 
[. . .]. He was hunched over in the booth with his face close to the door, as if he were peering out. He was alone in the 
booth and no one appeared to be waiting in the vicinity for the booth. 

Of course, simply being in a pay phone booth isn’t a crime, even if you’re John Draper, even 
if you’re hunched over and peering out. But the phone company’s monitoring setup finally paid 
off. It took security agents a few days to review the tapes (it was over a weekend, after all) but 
on Monday Pacific Telephone presented the FBI with a letter. 

This will serve to inform you that The Pacific Telephone Company has reason to believe that instances of toll fraud are 
being committed within your jurisdiction (San Mateo County) in violation of Title 18, Section 1343 of the Federal 
Criminal Code. 

We will be pleased to apprise you of certain evidence in our possession which you may acquire pursuant to a duly 
issued subpoena or letter of demand in accordance with applicable Federal Law. 

The phone company had learned much from the Hanna and Bubis cases often years earlier. 
If you have tape recordings of somebody making illegal calls, you don’t just hand them over to 
the FBI. No, you make the FBI demand them from you via a subpoena. That way nobody can 
make a stink later about how you violated the wiretap laws. 

Upon receiving his letter of demand from the FBI, George Alex, the Pacific Telephone 
security agent for the San Jose region, met with FBI agents the very next day. He provided 

them with a tape recording and detailed analysis of blue box calls made from the Menalto pay 
phone on February 20, starting at 4:45 p.m. and continuing until 5:50 p.m., in other words, 
during the period when the FBI special agent had eyeballed Draper in the pay phone booth, 
alone and hunched over and peering out. Dozens of blue box calls were made from that line 
during that time. 

Many of these calls were to various internal telephone company test numbers. Some were to 
numbers in the Bay Area where no one answered. But two calls were enough to hang Draper: 
one to some friends of his in Pennsylvania and one to his answering service in Mountain View. 

For younger readers who have never heard of such a thing as an answering service, come 
with me on a quick trip down memory lane. Back in the day, long before voice mail, even before 
telephone answering machines, busy or self-important people would hire an answering service, 
a company that employed real, live human beings to answer your telephone calls and take 
messages, handwritten on little pink slips of paper. You could then call in to the answering 
service, speak to one of these real, live human beings, and retrieve your messages. 

The reason the calls to his answering service and his friends were such nails in Draper’s 
telephonic coffin was that they proved it was Draper who had made the calls. In both cases he 
identified himself as “John.” The FBI even went so far as to subpoena the little pink slips of 
paper and to confirm that it was indeed John Draper who had the account with the answering 
service, and the service’s receptionist said she recognized Draper’s voice on the tapes the FBI 
played for her. FBI agents got Draper’s friend in Pennsylvania to listen to the tapes as well; he, 
too, confirmed that it was Draper’s voice. 

With all that, why would Draper still maintain to this very day that Sheridan made a blue box 
call and then handed him the phone in an effort to set him up when the facts seem so clearly to 
indicate otherwise? Is Draper simply delusional? 

Possibly. But it is also possible that Draper’s version of events happened too. It is clear from 
FBI files that, despite knowing about the blue box calls Draper made on February 20, the FBI 
went through with its plan to send an informant up from Los Angeles. The FBI learned of 
Draper’s February 20 calls only on Monday, February 23, the day before the informant was 
scheduled to arrive from LA. Agents may not have known that they had enough to convict 
Draper at that point; if so, sending the informant up from LA might still have made sense to 
them. This informant may well have been Sheridan. And Sheridan’s instructions may indeed 
have included getting Draper’s voice on a blue-boxed phone call. 

So Draper may not be delusional. He may actually have been set up. But, if so, the setup 
wasn’t what got him. He got himself, via his own blue box phone calls from three days earlier. 

Draper’s arrest occurred about a month later, at 7:33 a.m. on April 2. It remains, to this day, a 
textbook example of how not to deal with the FBI when being arrested. The FBI’s after-action 
report says it best. 

John Thomas Draper, 1 905 Montecito, Apartment 6, was advised of the identities of the arresting Agents, as well as 
the fact that he was being arrested for a federal violation of Fraud by Wire. Draper was advised of his rights [. . .] which 
he waived as shown on an executed Warning and Waiver form. 

Despite Draper’s having been arrested on Fraud by Wire charges four years earlier, the 
report continues, 

Draper inquired as to what a Fraud by Wire violation was and it was explained to him that it involved the use of a “blue 
box.” Draper stated that he never used a “blue box” and why didn’t the Agents execute their search warrant and look 
for one. Draper was informed that there was no search warrant but that he could voluntarily consent to a search. Fie 
then agreed to allow his apartment and his Volkswagen Van to be searched. 

Oh dear. 

As Draper selected each article of clothing that he desired to wear, they were first searched [. . .] In the pocket of the 

pants [the agents] found a small, black, plastic box approximately one inch by two inches by three inches with an on/off 
switch and three buttons on top. 

Oh dear, oh dear. 

After Draper completed dressing, he was transported by Bureau car to the Santa Clara County Jail. 

In addition to the mysterious black plastic box (which turned out to be a red box) the search 
turned up piles and piles of stuff that must have looked pretty damning to the FBI agents: bags 
of electronic parts, telephone company documents, computer printouts, teletype tapes, circuit 
boards, and reels of audiotapes. Oh, and a copy of a National Crime Information Center (NCIC) 
computer manual, the operating manual to the federal criminal computer database. 

It turns out that one of the best ways to get the FBI all riled up, second only to tapping its 
phones, is to have manuals to the Bureau’s computer systems casually lying around your 
apartment when FBI agents arrest you. The fact that the agents didn’t have a search warrant but 
that Draper invited them to search his apartment anyway just makes it all the more perfect. Or 
tragic. Possibly both. 

Draper was booked at the county jail and released on $5,000 bail. A public defender was 
appointed. Twenty days later a federal grand jury indicted Draper on three counts of Fraud by 

News of Draper’s bust raced through the phone phreak community; it was also picked up by 
the newswires and widely reported in the press. “Charges Filed Against Electronics Wizard,” 
read one headline; “Wizard Whistles Way into Trouble,” said another. For David Condon and 
his friends, it was a vindication of their policy of staying as far away from Captain Crunch as 
they could. Others closer to Draper felt a mix of exasperation and dread. “The first thing I 
thought was, what dumb or crazy stunt did Draper pull this time to get caught?” recalls Dr. 
Sidney Schaefer, a phone phreak friend of Draper’s. “Then I began wondering who else 
might be next, since the bust meant they probably now had my name and number too.” 

tttT he pseudonym he went by at the time, a tip of the hat to the movie The President’s Analyst. 

For his part, Draper was well and truly screwed. He was still on probation from his 1972 bust. 
One of the conditions of that probation was that “Draper shall refrain from illegal use of the 
telephone or other such electronic devices for fraudulent means,” which meant that even if he 
somehow managed to fight the charges the feds still might be able to get him on probation 

On April 22, 1976, Assistant U.S. Attorney Floy Dawson met with Draper’s attorney. Dawson 
proposed that the government would accept a guilty plea to one count of the charges and 
recommend six months’ jail time in return for Draper’s complete cooperation with the FBI. He 
went on to say that, should the government lose at an evidentiary hearing and if Draper didn’t 
cooperate, Dawson “would personally and vigorously pursue every possibility of having 
Draper’s current probation revoked and seeing to it that Draper will spend the remaining one 
and a half years of his probation in jail.” Out of options, Draper agreed, but with two provisos. 
First, that he be granted immunity for any related crimes he admitted to during FBI interviews. 
Second, that he not be made to name or incriminate friends. 

Draper met four times with FBI personnel over the course of the summer. The interviews 
focused on understanding exactly what Draper did and how he did it, what the vulnerabilities 
were in the telephone system, and how to fix them. Draper was mostly cooperative but he 
couldn’t always keep himself from mocking the agents interviewing him. “It was a big joke for 
him,” recalled an FBI source familiar with the debriefings, a joke that inflated Draper’s ego to 
new dimensions. 

On August 23, 1976, Draper was “sentenced to the custody of the Attorney General for three 
years to be imprisoned in a jail-type institution for four months, with the remainder of the 

sentence suspended and five years probation.” On October 4, 1976, Draper arrived at the 
Lompoc federal prison to serve his sentence. As he walked through the prison gate he added 
another first to the legend of Captain Crunch: the first phone phreak to serve time in a federal 

What of Paul Sheridan, the informant? And what of the phone phreaks he left behind? 

On March 5, 1976, Sheridan signed a payment agreement with Pacific Telephone 
acknowledging that he owed the phone company some $1 0,851 ($1 0,000 for his part in Project 
21, $457 for fraudulent credit card calls he’d made while in school, and $394 for his final 
telephone bill as Robert P. Norden). However, the agreement said, he had to pay only about 
$2,000 of this amount, and he could do it in easy monthly payments over the next six years. 
Unless, that is, he started phreaking again. If he made fraudulent calls, or wrote articles telling 
others how to phreak or encouraging them to do so, the entire amount would immediately be 
due and payable. The agreement required him to report his whereabouts to Pacific 
Telephone’s Pasadena security office every three months. 

Wayne Perrin says, “In ninety percent of these cases, with the phone phreaks and the 
hackers, we had no criminal case. Everything we had was stuff that you could not prosecute 
them for. Either there was no legitimate crime on the books that you could go after them for or 
we had only their word that they did it. In other words, there was no tangible evidence that you 
could go into court and show you that Paul had access to autovon. He showed you how to do 
it, and he did it, but he did it at your direction. So you had no independent crime that you could 
go and prove. Now, he didn’t know that. And we never told him. So because he was smart, we 
kind of talked to some people, and we talked to the air force recruiter, and so we got him kind of 
directed that way. He talked to the recruiter and they accepted him and he went in. Get him the 
hell out of here!” With that gentle nudge, about two weeks before FBI agents knocked on John 
Draper’s door, Paul Sheridan became Airman Sheridan, joining the United States Air Force 
and disappearing from the Los Angeles phone phreak scene. 

After Draper’s arrest, Sheridan’s phone phreak colleagues were left to sort through the rubble 
and try to understand what, exactly, had happened. The sequence of events didn’t leave much 
to the imagination, at least as far as who was responsible. Everyone had been acting paranoid 
and hinky. Schaefer had tried to reach Sheridan multiple times in February and March but didn’t 
get any calls back. Then one day, Schaefer says, Sheridan called him to say that he had run 
into a little trouble with the phone company, but not to worry, as he had settled the problem. 
Sheridan said that phreaking had become boring to him and that he was going to disappear for 
a while. This struck Schaefer as odd, verging on unbelievable. Two weeks later Draper was in 
handcuffs. Captain Crunch was sure he had been framed and wasn’t shy about saying who 
had done it. 

“The main reaction I had was a deep sense of betrayal,” says Schaefer. “I just kept 
wondering, how could he?” Draper’s bust also forced Schaefer to think about his involvement in 
the hobby. “It made me realize how very serious a business this was,” he says, “and how I 
should probably get out while I could. It was no longer fun, and not a game really worth playing 
anymore. I quickly became less active, I ‘lost’ my blue box and hid a bunch of files I had. I also 
couldn’t help but feel sorry for John. He’d been kind of a leader and my personal inspiration to 
become a phreak in the first place. It had all seemed so exciting for a long time, but slowly it 
became more dangerous and difficult. It just wasn’t worth it anymore.” 



On may 15, 1976, five and a half months before John Draper would report to the Lompoc 
prison, AT&T began upgrading its network with a new technology: CCIS, common channel 
interoffice signaling. Over the course of the next ten years this would spell the end of blue 

CCIS could trace its roots to 1947, all the way back to Bell Labs’ invention of the transistor. 
Transistors enabled computers, which made telephone switches smarter and faster. But these 
smart switches still had to talk to each other via an old language — the multifrequency signaling 
system that dated back to the 1940s. The computerized switches still had to sing to one 
another, slowly, over the same circuits that humans talked over. 

Transistors changed that because transistors also enabled modems. Remember modems? If 
you were around in the early days of the World Wide Web, you may recall dialing up your 
Internet service provider using a modem and listening to the odd noises it made while it 
established your connection to the rest of the world. CCIS didn’t connect to the Internet or the 
Web, of course, since those things wouldn’t be invented for years. But it did use modems to let 
the computers in telephone switches communicate with each other digitally, allowing them to 
quickly trade all the signaling information that they would have sent slowly via MF. Moreover, 
they could do all this via a separate channel, a channel that phone phreaks couldn’t get at. 
Analog trunk lines would still be used for conversations between humans, but no longer would 
these trunks resonate with 2,600 Hz when they were idle; no more would the switches 
serenade each other with musical MF tones to communicate the numbers that customers were 
dialing. And that meant no more blue boxes. 

Bell started experimenting with a CCIS-like system in 1968 and the first trial of CCIS itself 
began in 1970. Two decades previously it wouldn’t have been economically possible, maybe 
even technically possible, to build a separate computer network for telephone signaling. But 
now it was, and that’s exactly what AT&T did. The company built a CCIS computer network 
across the nation in which so-called signal transfer points — kind of like routers in today’s 
Internet — were used to gateway telephone signaling information from telephone switches in 
one region of the country to those in another. CCIS ran at a turtle’s pace of 2,400 bits per 
second by today’s Internet standards, but it was plenty fast at the time. In May of 1976 it 
officially began service between Chicago, Illinois, and Madison, Wisconsin. By 1977 all ten 
CCIS regions had been switched on, though CCIS coverage of the nationwide network was far 
from complete. 

CCIS, the Bell System said, was about reducing costs, speeding calls, and offering new 
services; with the new system calls would go through faster and additional information could be 
transmitted, such as caller ID. But eliminating blue box fraud was a motivation as well. The 
phone company had also been deploying another innovation — termed CAMA-C — throughout 
the network. This was a computerized billing system that could be retrofitted into older central 
offices and was also able to detect blue box fraud. Thanks to computers and modems, made 
possible by the transistor, the telephone network was becoming immune to blue boxes. 

CCIS was a well-timed bit of good news, because Ma Bell had been having a bad decade. 
There were the service failures in big cities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There was the 
EEOC investigation of AT&T’s hiring practices in 1970. There was the big strike by telephone 
workers in 1971. Esquire, Ramparts, the NPR program, and the phone phreaks themselves of 
course all took their toll. But all of these problems paled in comparison to those represented by 
three little words that the Bell System would encounter multiple times during the 1970s: 
competition, antitrust, and scandal. 

Competition raised its head in the late 1960s in the form of a Texas rancher turned 
businessman named Thomas Carter. Carter made his living selling two-way radio systems to 

oilmen and his fellow ranchers in the Southwest. In the days before cell phones, his customers 
needed a way to make telephone calls when they were out in the field, on horseback or in a 
pickup truck, far away from home or office or pay phone booth. Carter invented something 
called the Carterfone, an electronic widget that connected a telephone line to a CB or other 
two-way radio system. It allowed a person out in the boonies to make a radio call back to his 
home base and place a telephone call over the air. 

Carter sold thousands of his Carterfones before he showed up on AT&T’s radar and Ma Bell 
began her inevitable crackdown. “The phone companies were harassing my customers — 
threatening to cut off their phone service unless they quit using the Carterfone,” Carter recalled. 
AT&T had the law on its side, the crystal clear wording of FCC tariff 132: “No equipment, 
apparatus, circuit or device not furnished by the telephone company shall be attached to or 
connected with the facilities furnished by the telephone company, whether physically, by 
induction, or otherwise.” If you wanted to attach something to your Bell System telephone line, 
that something had to come from Western Electric, which was to say from AT&T. 

Carter sued the phone company. “The universal comment was, ‘You’re whistlin’ Dixie — you 
can’t win,”’ he said. After all, he was but one man against the might of the Bell System, and 
Bell’s case seemed open and shut. But Texas pride and his instinct for self-preservation kept 
Carter in the fight. “I didn’t think it was fair to let them run me out of business,” he said. After the 
usual tortuous legal process, his case came before the Federal Communications Commission. 
And on June 26, 1968, something unexpected happened: he won. The FCC decided that the 
tariff in question was “unreasonable, unlawful, and unreasonably discriminatory.” Flenceforth, 
non-Bell devices could be connected to those telephone wires coming out of your wall, just so 
long as they did not cause harm to the network. 

For consumers — and for phone phreaks — this was great news. It would take several years to 
catch on, but by the mid-1970s you’d finally be able to own your own telephones instead of 
having to rent them from the telephone company. It even opened the market to outside 
innovation; it wouldn’t be long before fancy new gadgets such as answering machines would 
become commonplace. 

The Carterfone was the first chink in AT&T’s monopolistic armor. The next one came less 
than a year later from a small, scrappy start-up company called Microwave Communications, 
Incorporated, or MCI for short. In 1969, to the horror of AT&T, the FCC approved MCl’s request 
to construct a point-to-point microwave private line telephone system between St. Louis and 
Chicago. MCl’s product offering was limited. It would not be providing general long-distance 
telephone service to either businesses or consumers. Rather, it would serve companies who 
had offices in both cities. MCI would charge these companies a flat monthly fee, one 
significantly less expensive than AT&T’s rates for similar service, to connect their business 
telephone systems in each city. AT&T executives were furious. The only reason MCI could offer 
lower prices than the Bell System, they said, was that MCI didn’t have to pay for billions and 
billions of dollars of physical plant, in other words the wires, central offices, repeaters, 
amplifiers, and telephones that made up Bell’s network. By focusing on one thing — building an 
intercity microwave link — MCI could avoid all sorts of costs and underprice AT&T. The AT&T 
executives had a term for what MCI was trying to do: cream skimming. 

Of course, MCI had no intention of stopping with St. Louis and Chicago; why would it? In 

1972 the small start-up hit the big time, raising $100 million through an initial public offering. 
The funds were to be used to build out a microwave network linking 165 cities in the United 
States, allowing MCI to replicate its St. Louis/Chicago business model across the country. By 

1973 MCI had persuaded the FCC to allow it to expand its product offering to include 
something called foreign exchange, or FX, service. MCl’s FX service allowed a big company — 

an airline, let’s say — to offer local telephone numbers that customers could call for free in 
almost any big city. These were AT&T-provided telephone numbers, but calls to these numbers 
got routed back to the airline’s corporate headquarters over MCl’s microwave network. For the 
airline this was a great deal, because MCl’s rates were less than AT&T’s. But as far as AT&T 
was concerned this was FCC-mandated financial suicide. It was bad enough that MCI got to 
skim cream, but to AT&T it was completely outrageous that MCl’s FX service required AT&T to 
actually help do it by providing the company phone numbers and a connection to Bell’s 
telephone network. 

AT&T was not about to go gently into this MCl-scripted good night. The matter quickly wound 
up in federal court, where MCI won. AT&T appealed. The appeals court vacated the lower 
court’s ruling and kicked the ball over to the FCC, telling the communications commission to 
handle it. The very next day AT&T began disconnecting MCl’s FX lines, cutting off MCl’s 
customers. Less than a week later, in April 1974, the FCC ruled in MCl’s favor. AT&T, at 
regulatory gunpoint, began reconnecting the lines it had just disconnected. 

By 1975 MCI expanded its offerings again, this time with something called Execunet. 
Execunet was revolutionary. With it, you simply dialed a local access number and got a second 
dial tone. You’d then touch-tone in a four-digit pass code followed by the phone number you 
wanted to call in one of eighteen metropolitan areas. Your call would be routed over MCl’s 
microwave network and then out into AT&T’s local network to complete the call — all for much 
less than you’d pay for an AT&T direct-dialed phone call. A competitor to MCI, Southern Pacific 
Communications Company, launched a system called Sprint that was similar to Execunet. 

AT&T hated Execunet and Sprint but businesses loved them. The phone phreaks loved 
them, too, both those purely interested in exploring a new telephone network to understand 
how it worked and those purely interested in making free phone calls; the access codes were 
only four digits and it didn’t take long to find a valid one after a bit of time spent dialing numbers 
on a touch-tone keypad. Paul Sheridan demonstrated Execunet to the FBI during his autovon 
demo in 1976. Phone phreaks weren’t the only ones hacking Execunet, however. In 1977 MCI 
sued the Hare Krishnas, accusing the religious organization of stealing some $20,000 worth of 
long-distance calls. 

AT&T and MCI continued their legal tussles. MCI sued AT&T, accusing it of monopolistic 
practices. With that suit AT&T met the second word it would become intimately familiar with 
during the course of the 1970s: antitrust. Of course, AT&T was no stranger to the term. Ever 
since the Kingsbury Commitment in 1913, the telephone company and the government had 
been more or less at peace with each other. With Kingsbury, AT&T changed its stripes from a 
predatory nineteenth-century monopoly to a kinder, gentler, government-regulated twentieth- 
century one. Since that time AT&T had largely played by the rules and stopped the sort of 
behavior that had gotten it in trouble in the early 1900s; for fifty years, Kingsbury had kept the 
peace and the specter of antitrust lawsuits had seemed contained. 

Now, years later, things were different. The Bell System’s immense size and sometimes 
questionable business practices had attracted calls for its breakup. The U.S. Justice 
Department had gone as far as filing an antitrust lawsuit against American Telephone and 
Telegraph in 1949, seeking to sever its manufacturing arm, Western Electric. The lawsuit took 
seven years to go nowhere. In 1956 AT&T and the Justice Department reached an agreement 
in which AT&T was allowed to keep Western Electric but would have to license its patents to its 
competitors — of which at the time there were, more or less, none. AT&T would also have to 
restrict its business to that of communications. Though the government trumpeted the 1956 
agreement in the press as a major victory, inside the Justice Department it was considered a 
travesty. As one historian put it, “The wounds from that 1956 scandal never healed inside the 

Antitrust division. Many of the division’s lawyers believed that AT&T had abused its political 
power, circumvented the legal process, and cheated the American public. Throughout the 
1960s, the division maintained files about AT&T’s activities, waiting for the right moment to go 
after Western Electric again.” 

The MCI lawsuit provided the right moment. On November 20, 1974, the Department of 
Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against American Telephone and Telegraph, the largest 
company on earth; fittingly, it would turn out to be the largest antitrust lawsuit in the history of 
the world. The legal action sought nothing less than the total breakup of the Bell System: the 
separation of AT&T Long Lines, the regional Bell telephone companies, and Western Electric 
— “severed limbs” was how one Justice Department official would describe their goal. 

AT&T lawyers argued that the antitrust laws did not apply to the company. It was, after all, a 
government-regulated entity; anything it did was approved by the Federal Communications 
Commission. Given that its every move required permission from the government, how could it 
possibly be engaged in improper behavior? Indeed, AT&T asked, did the courts even have 
jurisdiction over AT&T given that the Communications Act made the FCC the phone company’s 
overseer? These questions stalled the lawsuit until 1977, when the Supreme Court settled the 
issue. AT&T was subject to the same antitrust laws as any other big company, FCC oversight 
or no. Finally, after three years, the lawsuit could move forward. Due to the case’s size and 
complexity, the pretrial preparation work alone would take almost four more years. It would be 
1 981 before the trial itself actually started, and longer still before the case would be settled. 

The third word the Bell System would become intimately familiar with in the 1970s was 
scandal. In this regard the phone company was in step with the times. From 1972 to 1974 the 
United States suffered through the Watergate scandal, in which a botched burglary and an 
even more botched cover-up led to the unraveling of the Nixon White House and culminated in 
the resignation of the president, the firing of the White House counsel, the resignation of 
multiple attorneys general, the conviction of two top presidential aides, and the shattering of a 
nation’s trust in its government. 

On October 17, 1974, just two months after President Ford attempted to put Watergate behind 
the country with the words “Our long national nightmare is over,” a Southwestern Bell executive 
named T. O. Gravitt committed suicide. Gravitt, fifty-one, was a vice president and the chief 
executive for the company’s operations in the state of Texas. The suicide note and nine-page 
memo he left behind accused Bell and its officials of a laundry list of misdeeds. It concluded, 
“There is bound to be much more. Watergate is a gnat compared to the Bell System.” With that 
note, AT&T found itself embroiled in a scandal of its own, one that would dog the phone 
company over the next six years. 

Gravitt’s friend and colleague James Ashley, an assistant vice president at Southwestern 
Bell in charge of telephone rate cases in Texas, expanded on the charges that Gravitt left in his 
note. Ashley claimed that Southwestern Bell engaged in rate fixing by manipulating data 
provided to municipal regulators, that it maintained a slush fund its executives used to make 
contributions to sympathetic politicians, and that the telephone company engaged in illegal 
wiretapping against its enemies. For its part, Southwestern Bell denied any wrongdoing and 
stated that both Gravitt and Ashley had been under internal investigation for improper conduct; 
the telephone company suspected Gravitt had misappropriated company funds and Ashley had 
been suspended earlier that month for sexual misconduct. Indeed, Ashley was fired soon after 
Gravitt’s death. That November Ashley and Gravitt’s widow together filed a $29 million lawsuit 
against Southwestern Bell for libel and slander, actions, they claimed, that drove Gravitt to 

The Ashley-Gravitt affair was much in the newspapers that fall and attracted the attention of 

Louis Rose, an investigative reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri’s preeminent 
newspaper. Rose had written a series of articles examining the apparently cozy relationship 
between Southwestern Bell and the Missouri Public Service Commission, its regulator in that 
state. “I had been looking at all the expenditures and all of the salaries and donations by 
Southwestern Bell,” Rose recalls. James Ashley, he says, “found a convenient thing in me, 
because I was already looking up these ties.” 

In January 1975 the Texas scandal spread to North Carolina when a former Southern Bell 
vice president — another who had been forced out of the telephone company, as it happened — 
admitted during an interview that he had run a $12,000-a-year political kickback fund for the 
Bell System. The telephone company soon found itself being investigated by an assortment of 
agencies: the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice, the Federal 
Wiretap Commission, the FCC, and the Texas attorney general. 

The next shoe to drop in the scandal was, in a way, predictable — so predictable, in fact, that 
Bill Caming, AT&T’s patrician attorney for privacy and fraud matters, had predicted it ten years 
earlier. Caming couldn’t say exactly when it would happen, or exactly how it would happen, but 
he was sure it would happen. Ever since 1965, when he had first learned about AT&T’s 
Greenstar toll-fraud surveillance system, with its tape recordings of millions of long-distance 
calls and its racks of monitoring equipment kept behind locked cages in telephone company 
central offices, Caming had maintained it was a matter of when — and not if — the news of 
Greenstar would eventually leak. 

The “when” turned out to be February 2, 1 975. The “how” was a front-page headline in the St. 
Louis Post-Dispatch\ “Bell Secretly Monitored Millions of Toll Calls.” The article, by Louis Rose, 
quoted an anonymous source within the phone company and was chock-full of details: a list of 
the cities where Greenstar had been installed, the specifics of its operation, the stunning news 
that the phone company had monitored 30 million calls and tape-recorded some 1.5 million of 
them. Someone — someone high up, it seemed — had spilled the beans. By the next day the 
story had been picked up by the newswires and the New York Times. 

Caming didn’t need a crystal ball to predict what happened next: a phone call from the chair 
of the Flouse Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties, and the Administration of Justice. “He 
said, ‘I think we’re going to have to have one of your guys come down and explain all this to 
us.’” Caming knew, as he had known for ten years now, that he would be the guy. 

Less than three weeks later Caming found himself before the U.S. Congress, swearing to tell 
the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Seated with Caming were Earl Conners, 
chief of security for Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, and John Mack, a Bell 
Labs engineer who was intimately familiar with the technical details of Greenstar. True to his 
reputation for loquaciousness (or maybe it was his legal training) Caming made sure his 
colleagues never got to speak more than two dozen words over the course of the three-hour 
hearing. Caming explained AT&T’s motivations for launching the surveillance system, how it 
operated, and, most important, why it was legal — indeed, not just legal, but in fact the only 
option AT&T had to combat blue box and black box fraud at the time. Never once did he refer to 
it as “Greenstar,” the name that ten years earlier he said “just sounds illegal.” Perhaps it was 
Caming’s legal reasoning, perhaps it was his appearance — competent, prepared, confident, yet 
self-effacing — or perhaps it was 195 Broadway’s deft handling of the press on the matter, but 
AT&T managed to weather the Greenstar storm without much damage. Despite some alarming 
headlines there was little fallout and no criminal investigation. The Greenstar matter quickly 
faded away. 

The Ashley-Gravitt lawsuit refused to do the same, though. As soon as it got to trial the case 
erupted in an explosion of headline-grabbing dirty laundry. Multiple Southwestern Bell 

managers testified under oath that they had made contributions to politicians and then had 
been reimbursed by filing false expense vouchers; one manager admitted that he had 
“arranged for a city councilman to purchase some property from Southwestern in order to curry 
favorable influence in a rate case.” On the witness stand Ashley admitted falsifying expense 
vouchers but said he did it to “disguise political payoffs.” Firing back, Southwestern Bell’s 
attorneys produced thirteen female employees who testified to having sex with Ashley or with 
Gravitt — or who had sex with other men at their direction — in order to be promoted. 

The lawsuit turned into something of a legal roller coaster. James Ashley and Gravitt’s widow 
initially won a $3 million verdict against Southwestern Bell, plus another $1 million in a 
separate suit in which Ashley claimed Southwestern Bell had illegally wiretapped him. But a 
year later the appeals court overturned both verdicts. On October 22, 1980, the Supreme Court 
of Texas let this ruling stand, and Ashley and Gravitt’s widow would get nothing. 

While AT&T was dealing with its decade of competition, scandal, and antitrust lawsuits, 
something amazing was happening in Silicon Valley, something that, in its way, would turn the 
light out on blue boxing and phone phreaking even more effectively than CCIS. Ironically, it 
was something that AT&T itself had made possible. Bell Labs’ invention of the transistor 
enabled not just the computer but also the microprocessor — a computer on a chip. By the mid- 
1 970s the microprocessor had made it possible for you to own a computer of your very own. As 
it would turn out, the kind of people who would have been interested in hacking telephones 
would be just as interested — for many, much more interested — in hacking computers. 

Back in 1968, Intel was a small start-up focused on making memory chips for computer 
systems. Its founders, Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, had both worked at Shockley 
Semiconductor, the company started by one of the three Bell Labs scientists who had invented 
the transistor. In 1970 an even smaller company called Computer Terminal Corporation 
approached Intel about having it manufacture a new chip that CTC had designed. The 
interesting thing about the new chip was that CTC wanted it to hold an entire computer on a 
single piece of silicon; in other words, it would be a computer on a chip, something that had 
never been done before. Bob Noyce allegedly responded that his company could do it, but it 
would be a dumb business move for Intel, which was in the business of selling chips. “If you 
have a computer chip, you can only sell one chip per computer,” he said, “while with memory 
you can sell hundreds of chips per computer.” Still, money talked; CTC and Intel signed a 
$50,000 development contract. 

The project did not go smoothly. Intel was unable to deliver on time and CTC decided it 
would rather build its own computer out of separate chips than wait any longer for Intel. Instead 
of paying Intel for something it couldn’t use, CTC kept its money and Intel kept the rights to the 
chip. The project eventually resulted in something called the Intel 8008, an early eight-bit 
microprocessor that Intel began selling for $1 20 each in 1 972. 

By 1974 Intel had released a new and greatly improved successor, the Intel 8080, a tiny 
rectangle of silicon some 3 / 16 of an inch on a side that contained about six thousand transistors. 
It was a computer on a chip that executed a few hundred thousand instructions per second. 
Engineers called it the “first truly useable microprocessor.” Intel didn’t know it yet but that chip 
would be the thing that started the home computer revolution and would lead to Intel’s eventual 
domination of the microprocessor market. 

In January 1975 Popular Electronics, a geeky electronic hobbyist magazine, offered its 
readers an unbelievable chance to own their own slice of high-tech heaven. “Project 
Breakthrough!” the cover fairly shouted. “World’s First Minicomputer Kit to Rival Commercial 
Models . . . ‘Altair 8800.’” The cover’s photo showed a large metal box — blue, as it happened — 
about the size of three toasters, its nerd-sexy front panel festooned with dozens of tiny toggle 

switches and red LEDs. The computer had an Intel 8080 processor and 256 bytes of memory. It 
had no screen or keyboard, not even a teletype. If you wanted to program it, you would be 
flipping switches on the front panel for some time. But before you could program it you had to 
build it. It came as a kit, consisting of empty circuit boards and bags full of electronic 
components you had to solder together. The price? A mere $397, mail-ordered from a company 
no one had ever heard of: MITS in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

MITS’s phone began ringing off the hook. Within weeks thousands of orders were called in 
for the Altair 8800, more than four hundred in a single day. The Popular Electronics editor Les 
Solomon said later, “The only word which could come into mind was ‘magic.’ You buy the 
Altair, you have to build it, then you have to build other things to plug into it to make it work. You 
are a weird-type person. Because only weird-type people sit in kitchens and basements and 
places all hours of the night, soldering things to boards to make machines go flickety -flock.” 

Weird-type people who sit in kitchens and basements, soldering things to make machines go 
flickety-flock. Hmm. Where have we heard of such people before? 

As a hobby, building computers had a huge advantage over building blue boxes: it was legal. 
Computer hobbyists began to gather in the Silicon Valley — shockingly, without fear of arrest, 
without the haunting “who’s the informant?” paranoia that accompanied phone phreak 
gatherings. First there were the Wednesday night potluck dinners at the People’s Computer 
Company on Menalto Avenue in Menlo Park — the same place the FBI would stake out in the 
Bureau’s efforts to catch Captain Crunch — and later there were the meetings of the nomadic 
Homebrew Computer Club. Homebrew hosted its first meeting in March 1975. Its second 
meeting had some forty attendees; by its fourth meeting more than one hundred people were on 
its mailing list. The Homebrew Computer Club rapidly attracted the likes of John Draper and 
Steve Wozniak, who often hung out together in the back of the meetings. Wozniak would show 
off his latest hardware hacks and Draper — before his 1976 bust and still on probation from his 
1972 bust — would happily give tips on blue box construction and tuning to those who asked. 

Hacking on microcomputers had another advantage over hacking phones because you might 
actually be able to make money at it. The Altair 8800, for example, quickly caught the attention 
of a couple of undergraduates from Harvard University. Sensing a business opportunity, the 
duo proposed to write an interpreter for the BASIC computer language, something that would 
make the Altair far more useful. Upon seeing demo code from the pair, MITS took them up on 
the deal. The Harvard students — two kids named Bill Gates and Paul Allen — dropped out and 
started a company called Micro-Soft to pursue the opportunity. 

Intel’s 8080 found itself at the center of a competitive whirlpool of other companies’ 
microprocessor chips: the Motorola 6800, the MOS Technology 6502, the Zilog Z80. MITS’s 
Altair 8800 spawned a cottage industry of competitors as well, mostly kits, mostly clumsily 
named: the IMSAI 8080, the Processor Technology SOL-20, the MOS KIM-1, the Southwest 
Technical Products Corporation SWTPC 6800. Other companies formed to supply accessory 
circuit boards to these new computers, such as Cromemco, Morrow’s MicroStuff, Godbout 
Electronics, North Star Computers. Every one needed hardware and software hackers to help 
them. Riches, or promises of riches, or maybe just a fun job that might pay the bills beckoned. 

In 1976 former phone phreaks Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were selling Apple I 
computers to their fellow hobbyists. “Jobs placed ads in hobbyist publications and they began 
selling Apples for the price of $666.66,” journalist Steven Levy wrote. “Anyone in Homebrew 
could take a look at the schematics for the design, Woz’s BASIC was given away free with the 
purchase of a piece of equipment that connected the computer to a cassette recorder.” The fully 
assembled and tested Apple II followed later that year. By 1977 microcomputers had begun to 
enter the mainstream. You could stroll down to your local Radio Shack and buy a TRS-80 

microcomputer off the shelf, something absolutely unheard of just a year earlier. The 
microcomputer revolution was fully under way. 



Ever since 1967, when he called directory assistance operators all over the country to find out 
where each area code was, Bill Acker had been building a map of the telephone network in his 
head. By 1976 that map was bursting with information. It had long since expanded beyond the 
borders of the United States and now included countries overseas. In fact, it was now much 
more than a map; it was closer to a call routing database. When ordinary long-distance 
operators got stumped by how to make complicated international phone calls they’d call the 
expert operators at rate-and-route. Certain phone phreaks knew it was faster, and maybe even 
more accurate, just to call Bill Acker. 

One of Acker’s close friends had moved to Florida and had a Haitian roommate. Acker’s 
friend had a blue box and wanted to know how to help his roomie call home, so he boxed 
himself a call to Acker in New York and asked for routing guidance. Acker was happy to oblige. 
“Well, let’s see,” Acker said. “Look, the Dominican Republic is on the same island, so why not 
call Santa Domingo? 171 121 is how you get there and they’ll get you through. It should be 
pretty straightforward.” 

It was good routing advice but, like so many things in life, it had unintended consequences. 
In December 1976, the United States of America indicted William F. Acker on the felony charge 
of conspiracy to commit Fraud by Wire. As it turned out, the telephone company had been 
investigating Acker’s friend for blue boxing and had placed a recorder on his line. Just like in 
the Hanna case from the 1960s, the telephone company’s recorder grabbed several minutes of 
conversation from the telephone line every time it was activated by a 2,600 Hz tone. Those 
several minutes were enough to get Acker on tape giving his buddies advice on how best to 
route their fraudulent call. As Acker put it later, “Apparently being a rate-and-route operator for 
phone phreaks is considered conspiracy.” 

Fortunately for Acker, things had tightened up a little bit since the Hanna case a decade 
earlier. Back then the phone company turned tapes over to the FBI and the feds prosecuted 
based on whatever was talked about on those tapes — in Hanna’s case, his conversations were 
used as evidence of bookmaking. That wasn’t considered kosher anymore. The new legal 
standard was that tapes resulting from blue box monitoring could be used as evidence of toll 
fraud, and to identify the people involved, but attempting to prosecute on other charges based 
on anything else that was said on the tapes was standing on shaky legal ground. Luckily, Acker 
hadn’t actually committed toll fraud — on that call, anyway — and the result was that the 
conversation on the tape couldn’t be used as evidence of conspiracy. Charges against him 
were dropped on March 14, 1977. His buddy and the roommate weren’t so lucky, for they had 
actually made blue box calls; they were convicted later that month of Fraud by Wire. 

That January, a few months before the charges against Acker were dropped, John Draper 
walked out of Lompoc prison a free man. He had spent a total of three months on the inside, 
where he slopped pigs at the prison’s piggery and tended the prison grounds in a landscaping 
job. While there, Draper claims, he taught the art of phone phreaking to dozens of other 

Draper soon went to work for his friend Steve Wozniak at Apple Computer, designing an 
innovative product called the Charley Board. Charley was an add-in circuit board for the Apple 
II that connected the computer to the telephone line. With Charley and a few simple programs 
you could make your Apple II do all sorts of telephonic tricks. Not only could it dial telephone 
numbers and send touch tones down the line, it could even listen to the calls it placed and 
recognize basic telephone signals as the call progressed, signals such as a dial tone or busy 
signal or a ringing signal. With the right programming it could be used as a modem. 

An Apple II with a Charley Board, in fact, became the ultimate phone phreaking tool. Just as 
the phone company thought it was natural to mix computers and phone switches, John Draper 
thought it was natural to mix computers and phone phreaking. Draper was not the first to have 
this insight; students at MIT in the mid-1960s had interfaced one of the school’s PDP-6 
microcomputers to the telephone line and used it as a computerized blue box. According to 
hacker historian Steven Levy, “At one point, [the telephone company] burst into the ninth floor at 
Tech Square, and demanded that the hackers show them the blue box. When the hackers 
pointed to the PDP-6, the frustrated officials threatened to take the whole machine, until the 
hackers unhooked the phone interface and handed it over.” Still, the small size and low cost of 
the Apple II changed the game, and the fact that Charley could listen to a call in progress meant 
that it could do tricky things like crack codes for WATS extenders. As Wozniak explained it, “A 
WATS extender is used when a company has incoming and outgoing free 800 lines. Company 
executives call in on the incoming 800 line and tap out a four-digit code, which gets them on 
their company’s outgoing 800 line. Then they can dial a free call anywhere they want. The only 
system protection is the four-digit code.” Thanks to Charley and some software Draper had 
written, some of phone phreaking’s drudgery was eliminated; what Charlie Pyne and Jake 
Locke had to do with their index fingers at Harvard in the 1960s — dialing thousands of numbers 
and listening for dial tones — an Apple II could now do automatically. According to Wozniak, 
Draper cracked some twenty WATS extenders by Charley’s brute-force dialing of codes while 
Draper was working at Apple. 

All this did not sit well with Steve Jobs and the other managers at Apple, who thought the 
Charley Board product was a bit too risky and, besides, they disliked Draper to begin with. 
Charley was shelved. Draper left Apple and moved from California to rural Pennsylvania to 
work at a friend’s company designing a product for the emerging cable television industry. He 
and his like-minded housemates quickly turned their house in the Poconos into a 
microcomputer laboratory — a Processor Technology SOL-20 microcomputer sat side by side 
with an Apple II. Wires spilled out from the guts of Draper’s Apple II, where a new and improved 
Charley Board connected his computer to the telephone line. Charley was immediately set to 
work scanning for numbers. 

Draper loved to show off for his friends. Charley was a telephonic tour de force, an 
opportunity for adulation not to be missed. Draper penned a handwritten flyer on a piece of 
graph paper inviting his friends on both coasts to come to his housewarming party on October 
22, 1977: “There will be plenty of music, fun, and information exchanges going on all day and 
most of the evening [. . .] along with substances in solid, liquid, and perhaps gassious [sic] 
states for the head. ‘Charley,’ the first phone phreak computer, will be on hand to play with [. . .] 
So, head for the hills, the beautiful Poconos for the first East Coast Capt Crunch Party.” 

The event attracted more than a dozen of Draper’s friends and acquaintances, some from as 
far away as California. It was midafternoon before the party crashers arrived: the Pennsylvania 
state police and security agents from Bell of Pennsylvania. Draper soon found himself in an 
increasingly familiar situation, in handcuffs, sitting in the back of a police car. His Apple II and 
his housemate’s SOL-20 computer were seized and carted off to Bell Laboratories for analysis. 

Pennsylvania Bell security agents had been watching Draper like a hawk, having attached a 
dialed number recorder, or DNR, to his telephone line within a few days of getting word of his 
arrival in the 717 area code. Unlike a wiretap, a DNR doesn’t generally record voice 
conversations. Rather, it listens for tones and pulses and then decodes and prints out 
everything it hears — the numbers dialed with a rotary dial, with touch tones, or with the MF 
tones generated by a blue box. Within a couple of days the dialed number recorder printouts 
showed Draper making illegal calls. Some were made via a blue box, others by WATS 

For Draper, it was the start of a lengthy nightmare, one that he would, as always, chalk up to 
Draperism. Fie spent the next thirty days in the county prison, finally posting bail and getting out 
around Thanksgiving. Then, the day after Christmas, Draper’s venerable VW van blew a tire 
while driving through the Lincoln Tunnel. Pulling off in Weehawken, New Jersey, Draper called 
a tow truck, which dropped him and his van off at a service station. “When I come back to the 
gas station after getting money for the tire the car’s gone,” Draper recalled. “So I ask the gas 
station owner what happened to it and they said, ‘Call the Weehawken police.’ 

“I go down to the Weehawken police station,” Draper said, “and this detective down there has 
a bunch of stuff that was found in the car in his office. [. . .] Fie says, ‘Do you know what this is?’ 

I says, “It looks to me like a black box with buttons on it.’ Fie says, ‘Yeah. That’s a blue box. It’s 
used to defraud the phone company. We found this in your car.’ [. . .] Flow that thing got there is 
beyond me.” Draper was ultimately charged with possession of a red box, although this charge 
was later dismissed; simply possessing a red box, it turned out, was not a crime in New Jersey. 

At Bell Labs, Ken Flopper and his colleagues in the Telephone Crime Lab reverse 
engineered the Charley card and dissected the Apple programs that made it work, eventually 
preparing a 180-page evidence report for the prosecution. Flopper had no love for Draper. Fie 
was also aware of Draper’s legendary paranoia, his fear that the phone company was watching 
his every move and listening to his phone calls. At one point during the trial, Flopper 
remembers, he noticed that Pennsylvania Bell had a particularly spooky-looking van, one 
decorated with the telephone company’s unmistakable logo and color scheme and covered in 
antennas, complete with a futuristic-looking satellite dish on top. Flopper asked his friends at 
the Pennsylvania telephone company if they wouldn’t mind parking that van in the courthouse 
parking lot whenever Draper was there, just to freak him out a bit. Hopper’s friends were only 
too happy to oblige. 

After a lengthy trial filled with failed motions to suppress evidence, Draper agreed to a plea 
bargain, pleading guilty on June 19, 1978, to one count of possessing a device (an Apple 
computer!) to steal telecommunication services. He was sentenced to three to six months in jail 
in Pennsylvania, with credit for the one month he had already served. Once he got out, he 
would then have to deal with the feds because the Pennsylvania conviction was a violation of 
his federal probation. 

Meanwhile, Joe Engressia had moved from Memphis to Denver a few years earlier. Asked by a 
reporter why he was making the move, Engressia responded, “I just have a feeling about 
different areas of the country.” Plus, he said, Denver’s telephone switching system was “more 
fully computerized” than the one in Memphis and he looked forward to exploring it. His feeling 
paid off. In Denver he found a high-rise apartment building with an indoor swimming pool, a 
living arrangement he had dreamed about since he was a kid. He quickly adopted a new 
handle: “Highrise Joe.” 

In Denver Engressia began attending public utility commission hearings, just to keep up to 
date on what the telephone company was doing. “I was there every hearing, just perfectly quiet 
all day, listening,” he says. On several occasions Engressia heard a Mountain Bell vice 

president named Lloyd Leger testifying. Leger made an impression on Engressia with his 
clarity and no-nonsense style. “He sounded like a ship’s captain,” Engressia remembers. One 
day after one of the hearings Engressia approached him. 

“I got a problem,” said Engressia. “Maybe you could help me out.” 

“What’s that?” asked Leger. 

“New York. I called them and told them that every line into this particular exchange just gives 
me free calls. And they just hung up on me. Bunches of lines, it’s like thousands of dollars of 
revenue being lost every day. I was wondering, who would be the right man to talk to about 

“I’m the right man,” Leger responded. Engressia gave him the details on the defective circuits 
and Leger got the problem squared away; technicians in New York confirmed that there were 
twenty-four lines giving free calls and that the phone company was indeed losing thousands of 
dollars of long-distance revenue. Leger was impressed. 

After that, Engressia would periodically tell Leger about network problems he found while 
wandering the network. In 1977, Leger offered Engressia a job. “You wouldn’t believe the 
pressure AT&T and Southwestern Bell put on me not to hire him,” Leger says. The result was 
that, just about the time John Draper was being arrested in Pennsylvania, Joe Engressia was 
starting his new job in Denver with Mountain Bell as a network troubleshooter. He worked in 
the Network Service Center, where he would receive trouble reports from the field, try to figure 
out what was causing the problems, and then call the people in the central offices to tell them 
how to fix it. It was the perfect job for a phone phreak, one that fused arcane knowledge with the 
problem solving that Engressia had always loved. Engressia would finally get paid to do the 
things he used to do for free — exploring the network, ferreting out trouble, figuring things out. “I 
feel the Bell insignia on my jacket and I think I’m the luckiest person on earth,” he said. 

Buoyed by Engressia’s success, Acker moved to Denver in March 1979 and began working 
for Mountain Bell as a telephone operator. What he really wanted, of course, was a job like 
Engressia’s at the Denver Network Service Center, but Mountain Bell didn’t need any more 
people there. “They tried to sell other Mountain Bell places on hiring him,” Engressia recalls. 
“I’d tell them, ‘Yeah, he’s good, he’s my equal, he’ll do real good.’” But it was a tough sell and, 
despite a few promising opportunities, nothing happened. 

Operator services was interesting for a while, Acker says, but the job wore on him. As it 
happened, Engressia’s dream job was beginning to wear on him too. At heart, Engressia was a 
free spirit who didn’t like to be told what to do, and the Bell System with its bureaucratic rules 
and detailed procedural manuals for how to sweep floors was not notable as a place where free 
spirits thrived. Some things particularly incensed him, such as having been flagged as “being 
tardy even though you worked seven days a week,” he remembers. “They’d call you tardy if 
you’re not sitting at your desk [at the right time], all these little schoolish sort of things that I just 
wanted to avoid.” By 1980, he says, “I was ready to leave and have a different adventure.” It 
was also not lost on Engressia that with two little words — “I quit” — he might well be able to get 
Acker hired. “I thought, this may be the one time in my life where I can actually do something to 
change somebody’s life for the better for long term,” he recalls. Engressia resigned from 
Mountain Bell in 1 980. A few months later, on August 1 1 , Bill Acker joined the Network Service 

Ever since his 1976 court case Acker had become much more careful. Now that he was on 
the inside, however, he knew he had to be scrupulously clean. But, Acker says, he comes from 
the school of “once a phone phreak, always a phone phreak”; it was just a question of making 
sure that what he thought of as phreaking was strictly legal. Acker now went to extra lengths to 
make sure that any network exploring he did, and any conversations he might have with phone 

phreaks, were above reproach. Besides, it was a good time to get out of blue boxing. AT&T had 
started to deploy its electronic switching replacement for the venerable 4A crossbar toll switch, 
the 4ESS, just a few years earlier, and common channel interoffice signaling had continued to 
expand throughout the network. It was becoming tough to find a “boxable” trunk within the 
United States, and it grew more difficult with each passing year. 

For John Draper, it was also a good time to put phreaking behind him. Draper had completed 
his prison sentence in Pennsylvania from his 1978 conviction and returned to California to face 
the music for violating the terms of his parole. Psychiatric evaluations by two different 
psychiatrists observed that Draper “tend[s] to pass himself off as the victim claiming that he has 
almost no control over all of the troubles that now beset him” and that he had “numerous 
paranoid delusions of being especially picked out for persecution because of his power and 
knowledge” — although, one of the psychiatrists allowed, his paranoia might in fact have some 
basis in reality given his recent run-ins with the telephone company. Both psychiatrists agreed 
that a conventional jail would not be a healthy place for John Draper. 

In March 1979 Judge Peckham — the very same judge who had presided over Draper’s 1972 
and 1976 convictions — once again found himself peering down from the bench at Captain 
Crunch. “Is this not simple? You have to pay for your telephone calls,” he told Draper. Given the 
psychiatric evaluations, Peckham sentenced Draper to a work furlough program for one year, 
with credit for time already served in prison in Pennsylvania. Oddly enough, this structure 
seemed to work well for Draper, focusing his energy and attention. He spent his nights in the 
Alameda County jail writing computer code on paper and his days keying it in to an Apple II 
computer in Berkeley. The result was EasyWriter, the first word processor for the Apple II. 

That April Draper sent an open letter to TAP to be read at the newsletter’s 1979 
Technological Hobbyist Conference (the new, more inclusive title for what would have been the 
“Third Annual Phone Phreak Convention”), explaining his absence. “For several reasons, I 
have permanently retired from phreaking,” his letter read. “It’s time to move on to new areas of 
legitimate interest, such as professional computer programming.” He added: “I wish to have no 
further contact with phreaks or other individuals who may have similar interests.” 

TAP had expanded its focus and regularized its printing schedule somewhat since 1977 or 
so when its founder, Alan Fierstein, turned the reigns over to Tom Edison. §§§ Edison had 
learned of TAP through a column in the Village Voice in 1975 and quickly sent in some money 
for a complete set of back issues. “I was totally blown away,” he says, as he remembers reading 
through those issues. “I had become so fascinated with the whole electronics of the phone 
system, and at that time there just wasn’t too much being published even in the straight world 
about telephones and how they worked ... I don’t think I even slept, I just went through it issue 
by issue, page by page. It was just fantastic.” Before long Edison was sending TAP corrections 
to black box schematics. Not long after, he was volunteering at the recently opened TAP office 
between 28th and 29th Streets on Broadway in Manhattan. Shortly thereafter he found himself 
running the place. “A I gave me a key and said, ‘Here, this is going to be your new home.’” 

$$$T he pseudonym he went by at the time. 

TAP still covered telephones, of course, but by 1 978 it was running computer hacking articles 
as well. In fact, Cheshire Catalvs tlTITIT perfectly captured the shift from phreaking to hacking 
when he introduced his readers to what he called the beige box. “While intrepidly trekking 
around the recent West Coast Computer Faire in San Jose, CA,” he wrote, “I learned of a new 
colored box to do wonderful things. The Beige Box is any computer terminal that looks like a 
Model 33 Teletype to a remote computer.” So named for the sandy brown color of teletypes, 
Cheshire pointed out that with a teletype (or its equivalent) and a modem you could do all sorts 
of things, including hack remote computers. It was time for the blue box to move over and make 


IfHHOne of the pseudonyms he went by at the time. 

It was true that beige boxes (or, as they were more commonly known, home computers with 
modems) could be used to hack into distant computers, but they were also destined to allow 
phone phreaks and hackers to communicate with each other rapidly and efficiently. Just a few 
months earlier two microcomputer hobbyists in Chicago, Ward Christensen and Randy Suess, 
had developed a program called CBBS, the computerized bulletin board system. CBBS 
allowed hobbyists with computers and modems to dial into a computer where they could read 
and post messages and share files. It was a perfect anonymous exchange medium for phreaks 
and hackers. The first phone phreak/hacker BBSes began appearing within a few years. 

Unbeknownst to Tom Edison or Cheshire Catalyst, TAP received some additional scrutiny 
from the FBI as a result of the THC-79 convention. Someone, it seemed, had been handing out 
atomic bomb plans at that conference. Via an informant these plans rapidly made their way to 
the FBI. The New York FBI office forwarded them on to FBI headquarters with a cover note that 
said, calmly and primly, “Enclosed for Bureau are two packages of Xerox pages which, when 
assembled, comprise the front and back of a chart entitled ‘Fission Fever.’ Also enclosed is one 
eight-page Xerox document entitled Thermonuclear Explosives Design.’ It is requested that the 
Bureau forward this material to the Department of Energy for its analysis as to whether the 
information contained therein constitutes a violation of Federal law.” The DOE weighed in on 
the designs and rendered its verdict: “There is a possibility that such a device could give a 
nuclear yield.” The New York office was asked to investigate the source of the documents, but 
that source had long since vanished. 

Nobody knew it at the time, but Acker’s tenure with the telephone company would outlast the 
Bell System itself — and by no small margin. In 1981, less than a year after he had started work 
at Mountain Bell, the United States government’s antitrust suit against AT&T finally went to trial. 
Judge Harold Greene drew the case his first day on the bench and went on to preside over the 
largest antitrust case in history and the restructuring of the telephone industry in the United 
States. The statistics are mind numbing. Over the seven years leading up to and during the trial, 
AT&T had more than three thousand people assigned to it and spent some $375 million on it; 
the Department of Justice had 125 people on the case and spent $18 million. The trial saw 
more than a billion pages of evidence and called hundreds of witnesses. Then, on January 8, 
1982, shortly before the trial was supposed to conclude, the government and AT&T reached a 
settlement. AT&T would be broken up into eight different companies. AT&T itself would retain 
several parts of its former empire: long-distance services (formerly AT&T Long Lines), Western 
Electric, and Bell Labs. It could no longer provide local telephone service but would be 
permitted to enter the computer market. AT&T’s twenty-two regional phone companies would 
be remolded into seven regional Bell operating companies, or RBOCs: Ameritech, Bell Atlantic, 
BellSouth, NYNEX, Pacific Telesis, Southwestern Bell, and U.S. West. The RBOCs, each 
covering a different area of the country, would be allowed to provide only local telephone 
service, not long-distance calls, and were barred from manufacturing equipment or providing 
computer and information services. 

The new world order went into effect on January 1, 1984. On that date, after 108 years, the 
Bell System ceased to exist. 

The divestiture decision was not universally popular with the public, and especially not with 
the rank and file of the former Bell System, where Judge Greene and the breakup were widely 
resented. Life in the post-breakup era took some getting used to for longtime telephone 
company employees. As part of the settlement, for example, AT&T employees were now 
supposed to be careful about having contact with their former colleagues at the Bell operating 

companies. After all, those colleagues now worked for entirely separate companies — not quite 
competitors, perhaps, but now no longer family. Ken Hopper, the Bell Labs network security 
engineer, recalls a certain impact this had on his personal life. His wife, Barbara, worked for 
Bell of Pennsylvania, a Bell operating company. As a joke one evening after Judge Greene’s 
decision, Barbara took a length of green ribbon and ran it down the center of their bed, dividing 
it in half. 

The breakup of the Bell System symbolized just how much the phone phreaks’ world had 
changed. The giant cyber-mechanical-human system that was the telephone network, the 
largest machine in the world, was now almost entirely computers talking to one another via 
modems. Old analog trunks were rapidly being replaced by digital carrier systems and fiber 
optics, great news for consumers, for the clarity of digital audio meant that (as the Sprint ads 
claimed in the late 1980s) you could now hear a pin drop over the telephone. But for phone 
phreaks, gone was the comforting hiss of analog long-distance trunk lines, gone were the 
interesting quirks of electromechanical switches, gone were the clicks and clunks and beeps 
and boops that had so captivated them. The obsolescence of the blue box deprived telephonic 
explorers of the tool they used most to explore the network, and the network’s homogenization 
meant there was less and less of interest to explore. 

Phone phreaking would continue in various forms in the decades to come; there is something 
about the telephone network that still entices certain people, even today. But it would never be 
quite the same. Sort of like the echoes of the final kerchinkot a stacked tandem, the golden age 
of analog phreaking had passed and its memory was fading into history. 


I he town of Wawina, Minnesota, lies some sixty miles west of the westernmost tip of Lake 
Superior. Green and forested, with a giant swamp nearby, it is home to about seventy people 
spread out over some thirty-six square miles. Wawina doesn’t have much of a downtown. It’s 
mostly just a county road, a town hall, a few buildings, and a church. If you want the bright lights 
of the big city you need to drive a few miles up the road to Swan River, population 775. 

One thing Wawina does have is its own telephone company. With about forty subscribers, 
the Northern Telephone Company was bought by Bob Riddell in 1972 when he was just 
twenty-five years old. Riddell, a bit of a phone phreak himself (he prefers “phone nut”), grew up 
in the area and became interested in telephones when he was three. By the seventh grade he 
had built his own switchboard and by 1976 had amassed a collection of 108 historical 
telephones. Riddell injected his quirky sense of humor into the town’s telephone exchange. If 
you dialed a nonworking number in Wawina in the late 1990s you might have found yourself 
listening to his voice making the following recorded announcement: “We’re sorry, your call 
cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and dial again, or ask your mother to 
help you.” 

Another thing that Wawina had, for a while at least, was something that no other place in the 
continental United States could claim: the last operational telephone carrier system that used 
2,600 Hz and MF signaling. For many years the carrier circuit, called N2, provided trunk lines 
for Northern Telephone’s subscribers. It was the last place in the lower forty-eight where you 
could whistle off your call with a Cap’n Crunch whistle or dial a number with your blue box. Not 
to worry, though, you couldn’t actually make free long-distance calls that way; the only numbers 
you could dial with a blue box on the Northern Telephone system were within town. 

Then on June 1 5, 2006, Wawina’s N2 carrier system went the way of all flesh and, indeed, of 

all telephone equipment — it was, as they say, disconnected and no longer in service. Before it 
was removed, Shane Young at Northern Telephone set up a voice-mail account and quietly 
requested telephone enthusiasts across the country to pay their final respects to the system by 
dialing 218-488-1307 and leaving a message. In the weeks leading up to the cutoff he 
amassed several hours of good-byes from old phone phreaks and telephone enthusiasts, 
including Mark and Al Bernay, Captain Crunch, and even the old Whistler himself, Highrise 

The messages were poignant testimony to the power of the spell that the telephone had cast 
over some people. After all, phone phreaking’s heyday came and went some forty years ago. 
And that means we have a bit of catching up to do. 

Most of the original phone phreaks — the ones mentioned in this book, anyway — went on to 
live happy, productive, and fairly conventional lives. Jake Locke, the slacker student at Harvard 
in 1967, never did get a summer job with the phone company. Instead, he went on to get his 
PhD and became a respected scientist and academic administrator, demonstrating, he says, 
that “even callow youths can go on to become stodgy bureaucrats.” The students who preceded 
him at Harvard and MIT back in 1 962 — Charlie Pyne, Tony Lauck, Ed Ross, and Paul Heckel — 
all went on to have successful careers in engineering and related fields and are now mostly 
retired; Pyne even married his high school sweetheart, Betsy, who used to impersonate 
operators to reach him at his boarding school. Sadly, Heckel passed away in 2005. David 
Condon, the man who hoodwinked long-distance operators with his Davy Crockett Cat and 
Canary Bird Call Flute back in 1955, became an accountant and tax preparer. Now eighty and 
retired, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and enjoys traveling by railroad. Ralph Barclay, 
the inventor of the blue box, was an electrical engineer and entrepreneur for forty-four years 
before he died in 2009. 

The blue box bookies (and one of their attorneys) came to less happy ends. The government 
finally succeeded in convicting Gil “the Brain” Beckley, its most-wanted layoff bookmaker, in 
1 967. After lengthy legal wrangling, it looked like he would be going to prison for ten years. But 
then Beckley failed to make a court date. Some speculated that he had fled the country. Others 
suggested he had been rubbed out to prevent his cooperating with the feds; if he was tempted 
to squeal, Time magazine wrote, “Gil Beckley would be distinctly more valuable to his friends 
dead than alive.” Kenneth Hanna, the bookie whose blue box use caused FBI agents to kick in 
his door in 1 966, met a more certain end. He was found shot dead and stuffed into the trunk of a 
car at the Atlanta airport in 1970. Flamboyant mob attorney Ben Cohen was convicted of 
income tax evasion in 1966 and sentenced to eighteen months in prison; he died in 1979. 

Thankfully, most of the phone phreaks profiled in the Esquire article, and those who fell in 
with them later, avoided prison, to say nothing of car trunks in airport parking lots. Bill Acker 
spent twenty-seven years at Mountain Bell (which, after the AT&T breakup, became U.S. West 
and then later Qwest) as a network troubleshooter and switch technician; ironically, he even 
spent some time in the Network Element Security Group. Now largely retired, he lives in 
Denver, Colorado, where he maintains a version of the Linux operating system that is 
accessible to the blind; he also hacks on Asterisk, an open-source software-based telephone 
switching system. Al Gilbertson, whose annoyance at being busted by the phone company set 
the unintended consequences in motion that culminated in the Esquire article, retired after an 
entrepreneurial career in electronics. He now lives in a house on a vineyard in an idyllic area of 
northern California where, he says, he tries to do “as little as possible.” For almost twenty years 
Jim Fettgather has been at Alphapointe Association for the Blind in Kansas City where he 
teaches computer skills to the blind. Denny Teresi continues to love music and radio; he ran an 
oldies record store for a number of years and recently celebrated his thirty-fifth anniversary at 

San Jose State University’s radio station, KSJS. Mark Bernay switched from engineering to 
law; he is now retired and lives in San Francisco. Ray Oklahoma, the author of the Ramparts 
article and the discoverer of the 052 conference, went on to become a software developer and 
computer consultant. Al Diamond, also known as Al Bernay, whose telephone conference lines 
gave so many Los Angeles phone phreaks their start, was a schoolteacher for many years in 
southern California. He passed away in 2008. 

Joe Engressia traveled a substantially less conventional path. After leaving Mountain Bell’s 
Network Service Center in 1980 he took some time off, only to return to Bell System in 1981 as 
an operator for about a year. He moved to Minneapolis on June 12, 1982, a date he says he 
chose because 612 was the area code for Minneapolis. He found a high-rise apartment 
building where he lived on Social Security disability payments and the occasional odd job, 
including working as an olfactory panelist (or, as he put it, “smelling pig poop”) for the University 
of Minnesota. He also ran a pair of recorded telephone announcement lines, one called 
Zzzzyzzerrific Funline (the last entry in the phone book) and the other Stories and Stuff. 

Around 1986 he began calling himself Joybubbles. “We were on a retreat at Carleton 
College, a spiritual retreat, and it went around the room, what name would you like to use for 
the week?” he told a reporter later. “Suddenly it got around to me and I said, ‘Joybubbles.’ It 
was like a breath. You just felt the rightness of it. ... I guess because it conjures up in my mind 
joyful feelings.” 

Several years later Joybubbles decided to become a child. He explained it this way: “I’m a 
survivor of child sexual abuse at a blind school in New Jersey from 1955”; this was something 
he had “sort of forgot for a number of years.” He continued, “I think that, and going to school 
when I was four, and other things contributed to me feeling like I never had a childhood ... I felt 
that I was too smart to need to play like other kids did.” So, he said, “in 1 988 I decided to have a 
childhood at last.” He declared himself eternally five years old and began surrounding himself 
with toys. He legally changed his name to Joybubbles in 1991. In 1998 he made a few 
headlines for his pilgrimage to the University of Pittsburgh’s library in order to listen to several 
hundred episodes of the television program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers, 
Joybubbles suggested in an interview, was on par with Martin Luther King and Gandhi: 
“Nobody knows how much peace and love he sowed,” he said. He remained interested in 
telephones and often reported telephone network misconfigurations to the telephone company. 
Joybubbles died of congestive heart failure in 2007 at age fifty-eight. He left behind a tiny 
apartment full of toys, a diverse collection of books and magazines on tape, a few telephones, 
many real-world friends, and several imaginary ones. 

For John Draper, things were looking up in 1 980. EasyWriter for the Apple II did well enough 
to be noticed by IBM, which selected it to be the word processor of choice when it introduced 
the IBM PC in 1981. For the next few years Draper lived high on the hog as president of his 
own company, Cap’n Software. A 1983 newspaper article described him as a “wealthy 
executive,” one who drove a new Mercedes sedan and hung out on the beaches of Hawaii and 
Acapulco. But by 1984 his personal fortunes were crumbling. Cap’n Software’s distributor, 
Information Unlimited Software, had introduced its own, entirely separate version of EasyWriter 
called EasyWriter II — one for which Draper received no royalties. By 1985 Cap’n Software had 
collapsed and Draper took a more conventional software job. Two years later he was back in 
the papers for forging tickets to BART, the San Francisco Bay Area subway system; he 
eventually plea-bargained this charge to a misdemeanor. This was the beginning of twenty-five 
years of spotty employment, raves and dance parties, failed start-ups, and the occasional 
where-are-they-now newspaper article. Today Draper is sixty-nine and lives in Burbank, 

Chic Eder, the drug dealer and informant who gave the FBI the recording of Draper 
wiretapping their San Francisco office, ended up back in the slammer in 1 980 on drug charges, 
where he died eight years later. Paul Sheridan, the phone phreak spy for Pacific Telephone 
and the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, went on to have a successful and entrepreneurial career 
in business after his stint in the air force. 

Ron Rosenbaum, the man who made the Esquire phreaks famous, continues his 
distinguished writing career. He is the author of nine books and now writes for Slate. A reprint 
of “Secrets of the Little Blue Box” can be found in his collection The Secret Parts of Fortune 
( 2000 ). 

TAP, the phone phreak newsletter formerly known as YIPL, thrived in the early 1980s, 
especially thanks to a 1982 article in Technology Illustrated magazine. Still, rents being what 
they are in Manhattan, editor Tom Edison decided to close TAP ’ s New York City office and 
move production of the newsletter to his condo in New Jersey. Then, over the July Fourth 
weekend in 1983, while he and his wife were out of town, Edison’s home was burglarized and 
set ablaze. “It was an arson job, they had set fire to three different rooms. But before they set fire 
to everything they took the computers, the TAP information, the mailing lists, everything,” 
Edison says. “The fire department concluded that it was started by person or persons unknown. 
They agreed it was arson, there were accelerants used, there was no question.” To this day 
Edison believes that the telephone company was behind it. “The stuff that was taken had no 
value except to the phone company. If they stole the stereo, that would be one thing, but when 
they stole the paper mailing list and the floppy disks, that has no value to anybody else.” 
Editorship transferred to Robert Osband, aka Cheshire Catalyst. TAP ceased publication soon 
after, in the spring of 1984, after ninety-one issues. As it happened, in January of that same 
year a new hacker/phone phreak publication, 2600, appeared on scene. 

Alan Fierstein, the original founder of YIPL, was blissfully unaware of all this drama, having 
long since retired from the newsletter. Today he is an acoustical engineering consultant in New 
York City. Edison is retired and lives in New Jersey. Cheshire Catalyst moved to Florida, where 
he was instrumental in getting area code “321” — the last words astronauts hear before 
“Liftoff!” — for the Space Coast of Florida. 

The Bell System employees described here all went on to have lengthy careers with the 
telephone company. Ken Hopper, the former head of the Telephone Crime Lab, retired from 
Bellcore (the post-AT&T -breakup successor to Bell Labs) in 1991 after forty-four years. He and 
his wife, Barbara, moved to Arizona where he established Rancho Radio — several acres of 
desert land dotted with telephone poles and strung with long-wire antennas where he could 
enjoy ham radio. He passed away in 2007 at age eighty. Wayne Perrin, the Pacific Telephone 
security agent who handled the Paul Sheridan affair, retired from the telephone company in 
2000 after thirty-five years; he passed away in 2009 at sixty-seven. Bill Caming, the former 
Nuremberg prosecutor and AT&T’s attorney for Privacy and Fraud, retired in 1984 after thirty- 
one years with American Telephone and Telegraph. In retirement, he wrote and lectured on 
international war crimes and freedom of information issues. Today, in his nineties, he lives in 
New Jersey. As he noted in a letter to Ken Hopper at the time of his retirement, “We fought a 
great many battles together.” 

As to Ma Bell, after being broken up by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1984, AT&T and the 
Baby Bells (a great name for a rock band) went their own ways for a while, and then, 
gravitational attraction being what it is in a maturing industry, slowly began to reassemble. One 
of the planetary masses was SBC, formerly Southwestern Bell, which in 1998 and 1999 
gobbled up SNET, Pacific Telesis, and Ameritech. Another heavenly body was Verizon, the 
new name for Bell Atlantic, which by 2000 had glommed on to NYNEX and GTE (the old 

General Telephone). These two telephonic gas giants orbited around each other for a few 
years, with Qwest off on the side. Then, in 2005 and 2006, SBC bought the old AT&T long- 
distance company, the new AT&T wireless company (Cingular), and BellSouth, and renamed 
itself “at&t.” Verizon bought MCI. And that brings us to where we stand today, telephone 
company-wise: lowercase at&t, Verizon, and CenturyTel (formerly Qwest); at&t now trades on 
the New York Stock Exchange, not the Boston one, but in a nod to history its ticker symbol 
remains “T.” 

Judge Harold Greene, the man who presided over the restructuring of the telephone industry, 
passed away in 2000. 

The telephone network itself, the phone phreaks’ electronic playground, continued its 
evolution, as it had every year since its birth in 1876. Today its core is digital, with bits flowing 
over fiber optic cables. Increasingly, it is wireless as well. By 2001 the number of wired 
telephone lines in the United States had peaked and the number of households with wireless 
service only was on the rise. There is not an electromechanical switch to be found anywhere on 
the network today, except in museums and the basements of telephone collectors. The last 4A 
crossbar switch was too large to fit in either of those places and was removed from service 
sometime in the mid-1 980s. No ceremony or newspaper article mourned its passing. 

The blue box slowly became obsolete, a victim of technology: the transistor, the computer, 
the modem, the electronic telephone switch, common channel interoffice signaling (CCIS), and 
the digital network. Yet it still could be used in other countries that utilized telephone switching 
equipment from the United States — reports on the Internet claim that blue box calls could be 
used to explore the network (and, as always, make free phone calls) as late as the 1990s 
outside of the United States. CCIS, the computerized telephone signaling network that spelled 
the end for blue boxes, has shuffled off this mortal network. Its progeny, a system called 
signaling system number 7, lives on. Ironically, SS7 allows caller ID to be easily faked and 
was, at some level, what made possible the British telephone hacking scandal involving Rupert 
Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper in 201 1 . 

As to phone phreaking itself, an old joke comes to mind: “When was the golden age of 
science fiction?” The answer: “Whenever you were fourteen years old.” Blue boxes may not 
work anymore, and computer hacking may have stolen the limelight, but some teenagers and 
young men still seem quite interested in obsessively exploring the telephone network. In 2006, 
when I was first starting this book, I received an email from a modern-day phone phreak who 
goes by the handle Lucky225. His email opened with “PHREAKING ISN’T DEAD.” He went on 
(thankfully in lower case) to list a variety of phone phreaking techniques in use today, ranging 
from using blue boxes on obscure old trunks in various parts of the world to caller-ID spoofing 
and voice-over-IP hacking. There was still much to explore in the modern telephone network, 
he said, and he urged me not to let my readers think that “we live in a world where the phone 
company has learned from its mistakes.” 

Phone phreaking itself, however, differs from the legacy bequeathed to us by the original 
phone phreaks. To borrow a phrase from Apple, the phone phreaks “thought different” — and 
taught us to do the same. Where others saw a rotary phone that connected them to the three 
towns next door, Charlie Pyne saw a portal to another world. Where others saw a dense article 
in a little-read technical journal, Ralph Barclay saw a gaping hole. Where others saw a 
utilitarian telephone system, Joe Engressia, Bill Acker, John Draper, and their friends saw an 
electronic playground. They noticed things that others ignored, and they saw joy and 
opportunity in the otherwise mundane. 

Nothing captures this spirit more than the inspiration Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs found in 
Ron Rosenbaum’s Alice in Wonderland tale of blind kids hacking the telephone network, the 

two Steves jumping for joy after discovering the blue box frequencies in an obscure technical 
document in the library at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Their phone phreak 
collaboration selling blue boxes door to door in the dorms at Berkeley foreshadowed their later 
ventures, and phone phreaking was one of the things that formed the basis of their partnership 
— a collaboration that would give the world the Apple computer and create a company that 
would go on to produce the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. As Jobs recalled later, “It was the 
magic of the fact that two teenagers could build this box for $100 worth of parts and control 
hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure in the entire telephone network of the whole 
world from Los Altos and Cupertino, California. That was magical !' He concluded: “If we hadn’t 
made blue boxes, there would have been no Apple.” 

The phone phreaks forced us to consider things we hadn’t thought of, sometimes things we’d 
rather not think about — to ponder questions about who is ultimately responsible for computer 
and network security, for example, and what to do with people whose curiosity causes them to 
cross societal lines. The figurative descendants of the phreaks are still forcing us to think about 
these questions every single day. 

In the 1930s and ’40s and ’50s, the telephone company spent billions of dollars designing 
and building and deploying an automated long-distance network. The result was a technical 
accomplishment that pushed the limits of what was possible. Bell Laboratories had a lot on its 
plate; short of the Apollo space program and the atomic bomb, its researchers were tackling 
one of the biggest engineering problems that mankind had ever attempted. Computers and 
automated networks didn’t exist then, and there weren’t hackers to hack into them, so the 
technicians didn’t think much about security. You can hardly blame them for this oversight. 

Fast forward sixty years or so. In 2005 the Boston subway introduced a new system, 
CharlieTicket, that used magnetic stripe cards as subway tickets. You could add value to your 
CharlieTicket by depositing money in a fare machine that would rewrite the mag stripe on your 
card with the new amount. It turned out that the CharlieTicket had no security to speak of; less 
than three years later MIT students proudly displayed a $653 subway card they had created 
using a mag stripe card reader/writer they had bought for $300 on eBay. The Boston subway 
system’s response? Sue the students to prevent them from reporting their results at a security 

The exasperated cry of Al Gilbertson, the phone phreak whose 1970 bust resulted in the 
Esquire article, seems applicable here: “What the Christ did they think, that there’s not any bad 
guys in this world?” 

Whose fault is it when things like this happen? Do you blame the MIT students for being 
clever? Or do you blame the Boston subway authorities for fielding a system like that in the first 
place? Is it the fault of the phone phreaks for playing with the telephone system or the fault of 
Bell Labs for designing a vulnerable system to begin with? 

The phone phreaks compelled us to deal with a new class of criminal: the curious. When 
Charlie Pyne started dialing thousands of telephone numbers out of curiosity, just to find out 
what would happen, did he do anything wrong? When Bill Acker called the directory assistance 
operators in every area code, did he cross a line? What about when the 21 1 1 phreaks dialed in 
to a broken TWX converter and used it as a giant conference call, making it into their home on 
the network? How about when Joe Engressia whistled telephone calls for his college buddies 
for a dollar each? At some point a threshold is crossed. But the precise location of that 
threshold — as well as where it should be — very much remains subject to debate. 

Then, too, there’s the question of what society should do when one of its virtual lines is 
crossed. Should Engressia be kicked out of school for whistling calls? Should John Draper be 
fined $1,000 for making a three-minute phone call to Australia? Should he be sentenced to 

prison for four months for doing it again? And should he get more jail time for programming a 
computer to dial numbers to break into a WATS extender? How about for remotely wiretapping 
the FBI, even if he did it just as a lark? 

This is not to say that phone phreaks and hackers should get a free pass. There is a 
difference between mere curiosity and true crime, even if we cannot always clearly articulate 
what the difference is or what we should do about it when we recognize it. At some level, we as 
a society understand that there is a benefit to having curious people, people who continually 
push the limits, who try new things. But we’d prefer they not go too far; that makes us 

In the end the phone phreaks taught us that there is a societal benefit to tolerating, perhaps 
even nurturing (in the words of Apple) the crazy ones — the misfits, the rebels, the 
troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. Say Wozniak and Jobs hadn’t been so 
lucky when they wound up in the back of the police car that evening back in 1972, when they 
convinced the cops that their blue box was actually a music synthesizer. Say they had been 
arrested, possibly gone to jail. We might never have had Apple computer or any of the other 
things that Apple went on to make. Would we be the better for it? 


On a sunny afternoon in November 2005 I found myself giving a sweaty, half-naked man a 
piggyback ride around the front room of a dingy little apartment in Burbank, California. The man 
was heavy and my knees strained to hold us up as he shouted directions in my ear, telling me 
where to turn or how better to support him as I lurched across the room. The man was John 
Draper and the piggyback ride, which Draper referred to as “energy work,” was my introduction 
to what one author described twenty years earlier as a “Draper initiation ritual that all 
interviewers must survive before they get anything out of him.”**** 

**** Douglas G. Carlston, Software People: An Insider Look at the Personal Computer Software Industry (New York: Simon 
& Schuster, 1 985), pp. 1 02-1 03. 

I survived, knees only slightly the worse for wear. I got little out of Draper that day; actual 
substantive interviews would come later, he assured me. It was an uncomfortable and slightly 
inauspicious start to collecting the stories that would eventually turn into this book, and perhaps 
it should have served as a warning of sorts as to what lay ahead. Had I more sense, I might 
have stopped there. But over the next five years I would go on to interview more than one 
hundred people in person or by telephone, and I would correspond with many, many more via 
email. Phone phreaks, telephone company employees, FBI agents, and their friends and 
families all shared stories with me. Sometimes they gave me not just reminiscences but stacks 
of old documents, often documents I couldn’t believe they had kept all these years; in one or 
two instances, I was handed thirty-five- or forty-year-old tape recordings. It had never before 
dawned on me just how useful packrats are to historians. 

Much of my research time was spent tracking people down, sometimes people who had little 
interest in being found. My first telephone conversation with Ralph Barclay, the inventor of the 
blue box, went as follows: 

Me: “Hi, is this Ralph Barclay?” 

Barclay: “Yes?” 

Me: “Ralph, you don’t know me, but I’m writing a book on phone phreaking. Back in college, 
were you involved with something called a blue box?” 

After a very long pause, and with a distinct lack of enthusiasm in his voice, Barclay replied, 

“That was a long time ago.” It took me more than a year to earn Barclay’s trust to the point that I 
was able to interview him in person. 

One connection often led to another, but I learned that these connections happened at their 
own pace, often the result of a combination of frustratingly skimpy leads and pure dumb luck. A 
great example was when a phone phreak told me early on, “You need to talk to John.” “John? 
You mean John Draper?” I asked. “No, this is another John, a phreak at Berkeley in 1972. Or 
maybe ’73 or ’74. He built a specialized blue box,” was the reply. “Got anything else to go on?” 
“No.” But then a year or so later my phone rang and, out of the blue, the caller introduced 
himself as John Gilbert, “an old phone phreak from Berkeley, just checking in.” Sure enough, 
same John. 

Then there were the Freedom of Information Act requests. I filed more than four hundred 
FOIA requests with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice, the 
Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Federal Communications 
Commission, the National Archives and Records Administration . . . some days it felt as if the 
only agency I wasn’t spamming with FOIA requests was the Federal Interagency Committee for 
the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds. After reviewing thousands upon thousands of 
pages of redacted documents, I built up an unenviable level of expertise in filing FOIA appeals 
and decoding FBI “Bureauspeak.” I eventually got to the point where I was sending holiday 
cards to the FOIA staff at various federal agencies. 

All of that leads to this: the chapter notes that follow provide references for quotations and 
facts mentioned in the text, and, just as important, they expand on various points that were too 
technical or otherwise esoteric to include in the main body of the book. I hope you enjoy 
reading them as much as I enjoyed researching them. 

General Sources 

All present-tense quotations in this book from the following people are taken from in-person or 
telephone interviews I conducted at the following times: Bill Acker, 2007 and 2008; Ralph 
Barclay, 2009; Al Bell, 2006; Mark Bernay, 2005; Bill Caming, 2007 and 2008; David Condon, 
2009; Al Diamond, 2008; John Draper, 2008; Tom Edison, 2008; Jim Fettgather, 2008; Al 
Gilbertson, 2008; Bob Gudgel, 2012; Dennis Heinz, 2010; Ken Hopper, 2006; Joybubbles (Joe 
Engressia), 2006; Tony Lauck, 2007; Jake Locke, 2006; Ray Oklahoma, 2008; Wayne Perrin, 
2008; Charlie Pyne, 2007 and 2011; Ron Rosenbaum, 2008; Ed Ross, 2007 and 2008; and 
Denny Teresi, 2007. 

For newspaper articles, AP indicates Associated Press, and UPI indicates United Press 
International. FBI files are cited by file number and serial number (essentially a document 
number within a given file). 

Scans of some of the documents mentioned below are available on my website. These 
documents have a “db number” in angle brackets after the citation, e.g., <db23>. To view a pdf 
of that document, point your browser at . Unfortunately, 
for reasons of copyright and confidentiality, not all documents referenced here are available in 
this manner. 

Chapter 1 : Fine Arts 13 

Much of the material in this chapter comes from author interviews conducted with Jake Locke. 

2 “WANTED HARVARD MIT”: Harvard Crimson , March 7, 1 967, p. 6 <db461 > . 

3 transcribed the reversed lettering: Locke does not recall whether the letter was actually in Russian or merely in English 

transcribed into Cyrillic characters. 

5 “you’d have to dial something like 212-049-121”: Locke's recollection of Suzy’s dial code for the New York inward may 
have been somewhat off; the New York City inward was 21 2-1 21 , since it was a big city. 21 2-049-1 21 would likely have 
gotten you to an outlying city in the New York area. 

7 “Five Students Psych Bell System”: Charles W. Bevard, “Five Students Psych Bell System, Place Free Long Distance 

Calls,” Harvard Crimson, May 31 , 1 966 <db991 > . 

8 Locke dug up the Herald article: Ron Kessler, “Student Dialers Play Their Way to Global Phone Calls, Non-Pay,” Boston 

Herald, May 27, 1 966, p. 1 <db471> . 

10 “Signaling Systems for Control of Telephone Switching”: C. Breen and C. A. Dahlbom, “Signaling Systems for Control 
of Telephone Switching,” Bell System Technical Journal, vol. 39, no. 6, November 1960, p. 1381 <db445> . 

11 used a telephone dial to select the train to be controlled: Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, 
25th Anniversary Edition (Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly Media), p. 8. 

Chapter 2: Birth of a Playground 

14 the best known was created by Claude Chappe: J-M Dilhac, “The Telegraph of Claude Chappe — An Optical 
Telecommunications Network for the XVIIth Century,” IEEE Global History Network, at 
htto://www.ieeeahn.ora/wiki/imaaes/1 /1 7/Dilhac.pdf . 

15 In America the inventor was Samuel Morse: The Supreme Court of the United States declared Morse to be the sole 
inventor of the telegraph; see Tom Standage, The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the 
Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers (New York: Walker Publishing Company, 2007), p. 183. But debate continues as 
to the extent of Morse’s inventorship of the telegraph and the code that bears his name; see Gavin Weightman, The 
Industrial Revolutionaries: The Making of the Modern World, 1 776-1914 (New York: Grove Press, 2007), p. 1 97. 

16 Victorian Internet: Standage, Victorian Internet. 

16 “net-work like a spider’s web”: David Bogue, The London Anecdotes: Anecdotes of the Electric Telegraph, 1849, as 
quoted in Standage, Victorian Internet, p. 58. 

1 6 conveyed news, facilitated commerce, and whispered gossip: Standage, Victorian Internet, p. 1 05ff, p. 1 27ff. 

16 90% of all telegraph traffic: IEEE Global History Network, “Western Union,” at 

16 $6.6 million: Annual Report of the President of the Western Union Telegraph Company, 1869. The U.S. Bureau of Labor 
Statistics inflation calculator goes back only to 1911, but assuming a 3.2 percent inflation rate gives 2011 equivalent 
revenues of $676 million. 

16 20 million: Tomas Nonnenmacher, “History of the U.S. Telegraph Industry,” Economic History Association, at Astonishingly, the number of telegraph 
messages didn’t stop growing until the end of World War II, peaking in 1 945 at 236 million messages. 

17 “Nothing, save the hangman’s noose”: Tim Wu, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (New 
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 201 0), p. 22. 

17 “harmonic telegraph”: “The Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers at the Library of Congress, 1862-1939,” at 
http://lcweb2.loc.aov/ammem/bellhtml/belltelph.html . 

17 He became obsessed with this new idea: Thomas Farley, Thomas Farley’s Telephone History Series, 1998 to 2006, 
“page 3” at http://www.privateline.com7TelephoneHistorvA7TeleHistorvA.htm . 

17 “could never be more than a scientific toy”: Herbert N. Casson, The History of the Telephone (Chicago: A. C. McClurg 
& Co., 1 91 0),pp. 24-25. 

17 “For him the thrill of the new”: Wu, Master Switch, p. 22. 

17 “I now realize I should never”: Floyd Darrow, Masters of Science and Invention (New York: Harcourt, Brace and 
Company, 1923), p. 293. 

18 he finally succeeded: Bell started work on the harmonic telegraph in 1873. Many have claimed inventorship of the 
telephone: Elisha Gray, Johann Philipp Reis, and Daniel Drawbaugh, to name but three. Each has his adherents, but the 
fact remains that, rightly or wrongly, Bell's patents carried the day. 

18 unlikely contraption: John Brooks, Telephone: The First Hundred Years (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), pp. 46-50, 
and John Murphy, The Telephone: Wiring America (New York: Chelsea House Publications, 2009), pp. 33-36. For a 
drawing of the variable resistance setup from Bell’s laboratory notebook, see “Bell’s Experimental Notebook, 10 March 
1 876” at http://memorv.loc.aov/ammem/bellhtml/bell1 .html . 

18 $100,000: M. D. Fagen, A History of Science and Engineering in the Bell System: The Early Years (1875-1925) (New 
York: Bell Telephone Laboratories, 1 975), p. 31 . Bell’s offering of the telephone patent to Western Union for $1 00,000 is 
reported in AT&T’s own official history and other sources. Despite this, the evidence for it is thin. See Michael Wolff, “The 

Marriage That Almost Was,” IEEE Spectrum, February 1 976, p. 41 , for a detailed investigation. 

18 “What use could this company make”: Casson, History of the Telephone, pp. 58-59. 

19 “It is indeed difficult”: Providence Press , undated, quoted in Brooks, Telephone , p. 54. 

19 The Bell Telephone Company itself: Brooks, Telephone , pp. 53-55. In this chapter I use the term “Bell Telephone” to 
refer to any of the incarnations of Bell’s company, which reorganized and changed its name several times during its early 
years. It was founded as Bell Telephone Company in 1877. It reorganized in 1878, keeping its name but also creating 
New England Telephone Company. In 1 879 it reorganized again, changing its name to National Bell Company. In 1 880 it 
changed its name to American Bell. In 1882 it acquired Western Electric, which became the company's manufacturing 
arm. In 1885 American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) was formed as a subsidiary to handle long-distance 
lines for American Bell. In an 1 899 reorganization, the child became the parent when AT&T acquired American Bell. For 

more information see AT&T’s website, “A Brief History: Origins” at .html, or Brooks, 
Telephone , chapters 1-4. 

19 telegraph contractors: John E. Kingsbury, The Telephone and Telephone Exchanges: Their Invention and 
Development (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915), p. 67, quoting from an 1877 Bell Telephone advertisement. 
Note that this Kingsbury is not related to the Nathan Kingsbury of the AT&T Kingsbury Commitment. 

19 $20 per year: Ibid. 

20 “Instead of erecting a line directly”: Kingsbury, Telephone and Telephone Exchanges , pp. 90-91 , quoting from a letter 
from Bell to the investors of the Electrical Telephone Company in March 1 878. 

20 The switchboard . . . telephone central office or exchange: Telegraph central exchanges were apparently first patented 
in 1 851 and in use by the late 1 860s. Multiple parties, including Bell, thought of applying this hub-and-spoke architecture 
to the telephone. See ibid., pp. 77ff. 

21 “It was believed that they would have the energy”: Murphy, Telephone: Wiring America, p. 81 . 

21 “warmer human voice”: Ibid. 

21 American Speaking Telephone: Farley, Farley’s Telephone History Series, “page 4,” at 7Telehistorv2A.htm . 

21 settled the lawsuit: Kingsbury, Telephone and Telephone Exchanges, p. 1 89, and Brooks, Telephone, pp. 71-72. 

22 ticker symbol “T”: Domenic Vitiello and George E. Thomas, The Philadelphia Stock Exchange and the City It Made 
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 201 0), p. 1 1 1 ; AT&T news release, “New AT&T to Begin Trading Under 
T Ticker Symbol," November 30, 2005. 

22 “During the past few months”: “Correspondence: Philadelphia,” The Electrical Engineer, April 1 6, 1 890, p. 249. 

22 “I cannot understand”: Ibid. 

22 AT&T’s first long-distance line: AT&T Long Lines Department, Our Company and How It Operates, 1960,p. 3. 

23 the engineers persevered: Kingsbury, Telephone and Telephone Exchanges, p. 444. 

23 more than ten thousand subscribers: Fagen, Bell System, p. 496. 

23 Put fifty of these switchboards: AT&T, Principles of Electricity Applied to Telephone and Telegraph Work, 1 953, pp. 79- 
80. The switchboard went through a lengthy evolution with many design iterations; the switchboard described here is just 
one example. 

24 an operator on a tandem switchboard: Fagen, Bell System, p. 505. 

24 3 million switchboard connected phones: Brooks, Telephone, p. 1 1 1 . 

24 warehouses full of people: I am indebted to Paul Heilman for the phrase. 

24 thirty thousand operators . . . hundred thousand: Fagen, Bell System, p. 550. 

24 “a coast-to-coast call”: F. A. Collins, “Telephone Night Habits,” New York Times, March 1 9, 1 922 <db993> . A coast-to- 
coast call in 1 922 would have cost “a little more than $5 per minute” during the day, some $67 per minute today. There 
was a 50 percent discount after 8:30 p.m. and a 65 percent discount after midnight. 

24 legend has it: There are multiple versions of this perhaps apocryphal story. See Brooks, Telephone, p. 100, for one. 

25 Strowger’s first mechanical telephone switch: A. B. Strowger, “Automatic Telephone Exchange,” United States Patent 
No. 447,91 8, March 10, 1891. 

25 To call telephone number 315: Kingsbury, Telephone and Telephone Exchanges, p. 400. The original Strowger patent 
required each telephone to have five wires: three for dialing, one for hanging up, and one for audio. Ground was handled 
by a connection to earth ground. 

25 The first automatic telephone exchange: Roger B. Hill, “The Early Years of the Strowger System,” Bell Laboratories 
Record , vol. 31 , no. 3, March 1 953, pp. 95ff, at <db992> . 

26 Bell had licensed: Fagen, Bell System, p. 554. 

26 reached its peak: The percentage of lines connected to step-by-step switches peaked in 1960 at 49 percent. See ibid., 

p. 61 2. 

26 more than six thousand: AT&T, “Milestones in AT&T History,” at . 

26 Prices varied: Kingsbury, Telephone and Telephone Exchanges, pp. 465-80. 

26 different phone lines installed: Brooks, Telephone, p. 109. 

27 Bell had about fifteen hundred: Ibid., p. 1 1 1 . 

27 “ruthless, grinding, oppressive monopoly”: Ibid., pp. 1 1 2-1 4. 

27 Interstate Commerce Commission: Letter from Attorney General to Chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission, 

January 7, 1913, quoted in Annual Report of the Directors of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, 1913, p. 

27 just like the postal system: Brooks, Telephone, p. 1 48. 

27 Kingsbury Commitment: AT&T, Annual Report of the Directors of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, 
1914, pp. 24-27; Brooks, Telephone, p. 136. 

28 “The trick of the Kingsbury Commitment”:Wu, Master Switch, p. 56. 

28 50 million telephone calls: AT&T, Report of the Directors to the Stockholders for the Year 1925. 

Chapter 3: Cat and Canary 

Much of the material in this chapter comes from author interviews conducted with David Condon. 

31 “verbally informed the operator of his wishes”: Fagen, Bell System, p. 502. 

32 “it is unbelievable that it took so long to invent”: Ibid., p. 578. 

32 two-letter, five-digit: I have simplified a bit of the numbering history here. Telephone numbering schemes varied from 
place to place. Some towns had four-digit telephone numbers, others fewer digits. When mixed letter-number dialing 
arrived in 1 922, it started out as three letters and four digits; it changed to two letters and five digits in 1 947. See Amos E. 
Joel Jr., A History of Science and Engineering in the Bell System: Switching Technology (1925-1975) (New York: Bell 
Telephone Laboratories, 1 982), pp. 1 2, 608. An informative website that provides history on telephone exchange names 
is the Telephone Exchange Name Project, at http://ourwebhome.com7TENP/TENproiect.html . 

32 had to dial 21 1 : The long-distance access code varied from place to place, but 21 1 was common in cities with panel or 
crossbar telephone systems. In places with step-by-step switching equipment, 112 was used; the telephone company 
offered a phrase to help customers remember this: “dial one-one-two to go straight through.” See Joel, Switching 
Technology, p. 123. 

34 costs $5.90: Federal Communications Commission, The Industry Analysis Division’s Reference Book of Rates, Price 
Indices, and Expenditures for Telephone Service, July 1998, p. 47 (“AT&T Basic Schedule Residential Rates for 10- 

Minute Interstate Inter-LATA Calls,” Table 2.5), at Carrier/Reports/FCC- 
State Link/IAD/ref98.pdf . 

34 double or nothing scheme: Fagen, Bell System, pp. 61 8-1 9, 629. 

35 Josefina Q. Zoetrope: Variations of this scheme (e.g., with collect calls instead of person-to-person calls) were possible 
as well. 

36 phone phreak nickname: Condon had another nickname, bestowed on him by the younger phone phreak Joe 
Engressia: Manuel Daze, a pun on “manual days” since, unlike the other phone phreaks in the 1 960s, Condon had been 
playing games with the telephone system since the manual days of operators and switchboards. 

39 highest classification: Even “unclassified” AT&T documents were often stamped “Not for use or disclosure outside the 
Bell System except under written agreement.” 

39 Oak Ridge: George O. Robinson Jr., The Oak Ridge Story (Kingsport, TN: Southern Publishers, Inc., 1950). 

Chapter 4: The Largest Machine in the World 

41 “could not have supported such a work force”: Fagen, Bell System, p. 613. 

42 some 15 percent of telephones: Robert G. Elliott, “Dial Service Is Extending Its Reach," Bell Telephone Magazine, 
Summer 1 955, p. 1 1 0. 

42 70 percent of long-distance telephone calls: AT&T Long Lines Department, Our Company and How It Operates, 1 960, 

42 “stone knives and bearskins”: Star Trek, original series episode 28, “City on the Edge of Forever,” April 6, 1967. 
(Thanks, Mr. Spock.) 

43 national numbing plan: AT&T’s first national numbering plan divided the country into eighty-six different geographic 
areas called numbering plan areas (NPAs). Each numbering plan area was assigned a three-digit “numbering plan area 
code,” which is where the more familiar term “area code” comes from. Within the telephone company and, later, within the 

phone phreak community, area codes were generally referred to as NPAs. See F. F. Shipley, “Nation-Wide Dialing," Bell 
Laboratories Record, vol. 23, October 1945, p. 368; W. H. Nunn, “Nationwide Numbering Plan,” Bell System Technical 
Journal, vol. 31 , September 1952, p. 851 ; and Joel, Switching Technology, pp. 123-28. 

44 machines need to be able to do the billing: For more on the incredible “automatic message accounting” (AMA) system 
see . 

44 largest machine in the world: I am indebted to the late Robert Hill for the lovely description of the telephone network as 
the “largest machine in the world, extending as it does over the whole surface of the earth.” See Robert Hill, “Days at the 
Old Bailey,” Interface (the house journal of Cambridge Consultants Ltd.), vol. 8, no. 1 , April 1 974, p. 1 0 <db341> . 

46 memory called a sender: L. T. Anderson, “Senders for #5 Crossbar,” Bell Laboratories Record , November 1 949, p. 385. 
To be fair, it was possible to augment step-by-step switches with memory and brains as well, and this idea found 
popularity in the United Kingdom in the 1920s with what were called “directorized” step-by-step switches. See the BT 

Archives at http://www.btplc.eom/rhearoup/BTsHistorv/1 91 2to1 968/1 922.htm . 

46 “In a word, the switching systems”: Joel, Switching Technology, p. 3. The boys at Bell Labs were justifiably proud of 
their intelligent machines and suggested they might be compared to a form of human intelligence. See John Meszar, 
“Switching Systems as Mechanical Brains,” Bell Laboratories Record, February 1 953, p. 63 <db994> . 

46 4A deserved a grander name: The #4A crossbar switch was an advanced version of the original #4 crossbar. The first 
#4 crossbar was installed in Philadelphia in 1943 and was followed by sister installations in Boston, New York City, 
Cleveland, Chicago, and Oakland; all of these systems would eventually be upgraded to be more or less the same as a 
#4A crossbar. The first #4A crossbar was installed in Albany, New York, in 1 950. See Joel, Switching Technology, p. 1 80. 

46 fifty-nine of them : Our Company and How It Operates, p. 6. 

47 thin steel cards: Joel, Switching Technology, pp. 180-83. 

47 “At the end of this era”: Ibid., p. 3. 

47 less intelligent brethren: By the 1950s the telephone network consisted of about twenty-six hundred long-distance 
switching centers divided into five different levels of hierarchy. At the top of the hierarchy were the “regional” or class 1 
centers — nine in the United States and two in Canada — followed by the “sectional” (class 2) centers, the “primary” (class 
3) centers, the “toll” (class 4) centers, and then “toll points” (class 5). At the very bottom of the hierarchy were “end 
offices” — telephone switching offices that served only subscribers and weren’t used for switching long-distance traffic. 
Lower-level switching machines were said to “home” on higher-level machines, that is, if they didn’t have direct trunk 
lines to some place, they would forward the call to the machine they homed on in the hopes that it did. So, for example, a 
primary center such as Casper, Wyoming, might home on a sectional center like Cheyenne, and Cheyenne would in turn 
home on the regional center in Denver, Colorado. Naturally, the brainy 4As would go at the top of the network and less 
intelligent switching machines, such as crossbar tandems and step tandems, would make up the lower rungs. The 
telephone company toyed for a time with the notion of a “national center” in St. Louis, Missouri, but this idea never came 
to fruition. For the evolution of the hierarchical network concept, see H. S. Osborne, “General Switching Plan for 

Telephone Toll Service,” Bell System Technical Journal, vol. 9, no. 3, July 1930, p. 429; AT&T, Notes on Nationwide 

Dialing, 1955 <db995> : and AT&T, Notes on Distance Dialing, 1956 <db996> . AT&T made its network hierarchy 
somewhat visible (well, audible) in 1968 when it began assigning specific area-code-based numerical identification 
codes to each tandem; these identification codes would be played back to customers when they misdialed or when a 

circuit condition prevented a call from going through. See . 

47 supervisory information: Fagen, Bell System, p. 505. 

47 multifrequency language, or MF: The earliest published article on MF signaling seems to be D. L. Moody, 

“Multifrequency Pulsing,” Bell Laboratories Record, vol. 23, December 1945, p. 466 <db997> . This article disclosed the 
MF frequencies (700 Hz, 900 Hz, etc.) but did not explain which digits went with which pairs of frequencies; that 
information didn’t appear in a published article until 1949 in an article by C. A. Dahlbom, A. W. Horton Jr., and D. L. 

Moody, “Application of Multifrequency Pulsing,” AIEE Transactions, vol. 68, 1949, pp. 392-96 <db446> . As it happened, 
however, several earlier Bell Laboratories patents did include this information, for example, Paul B. Murphy of Bell 
Laboratories, United States Patent number 2,2882,251, “Automatic Toll Switching Telephone System” (filed December 
31 , 1 940, granted June 30, 1 942). 

48 used this 2,600 Hz tone: Not all long-distance trunk (“carrier”) systems used 2,600 Hz for signaling, but the majority did. 
See Joel, Switching Technology, pp. 128-30. For SF signaling history, see A. Weaver and N. A. Newell, “In-Band Single- 
Frequency Signaling,” Bell System Technical Journal, November 1954, pp. 1309-30 <db447> . 

48 “playing a tune for a telephone number”: “Playing a tune for a telephone number” (advertisement), Popular Science 
Monthly, February 1950, p. 5 <db998> . 

48 educational AT&T movie: AT&T, Speeding Speech, 1 950s, at . 

48 “sing” to each other: ‘“Long Distance Brain,’ Now in Operation Here, Hears, Reads, and Sings,” Times-News 
(Hendersonville, NC), November 22, 1 954, p. 1 . 

48 in-band signaling: Out-of-band signaling was also used on some long-distance trunks transmitted by the N1 , 01 , and ON 
carrier systems. See Joel, Switching Technology , pp. 1 29-30. 

49 operator distance dialing: Ibid., pp. 52-54. Also known as “operator toll dialing,” operator dialing of long-distance calls 
started on a very limited basis as early as the 1 920s but suffered from various technical problems in its early days. 

49 “guinea pigs”: “Direct Long Distance Dialing Told Realtors,” Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, CA), May 25, 1 955, p. 1 . 

49 Englewood, New Jersey: “Englewood Begins Long Distance Customer Dialing,” Bell Laboratories Record, December 
1951, p. 571 <db999> . 

50 318-GA2-2134: Ibid. Yes, in the original numbering plan, San Francisco was 31 8, not 41 5. 

Chapter 5: Blue Box 

Much of the material in this chapter comes from author interviews conducted with Ralph Barclay as well as FBI files. 

51 “Signaling Systems for Control of Telephone Switching”: Breen and Dahlbom, “Signaling Systems for Control of 
Telephone Switching.” There is an oft-repeated legend in the phone phreak community that Bell security agents visited 
university engineering libraries across the country in the late 1960s or early 1970s and either demanded that issue be 

withdrawn from circulation or, in some versions of the story, used razor blades to slice this article out of the Bell System 
Technical Journal. Ken Hopper of Bell Laboratories denies that this is true, and the existence of the article intact at the 
Berkeley, Stanford, and MIT engineering libraries suggests that he is right. 

53 dial directory assistance: Actually, you wouldn’t have called it “directory assistance” in 1960. Back then it was known 
simply as “information.” The change to directory assistance came in 1968: “Frankly, the term ‘information’ has caused a 
lot of confusion and delay,” said a telephone company manager. “Many people call for bus schedules, solutions to 

homework problems, baseball scores and other information which our operators do not have ... we feel the new name 
is more descriptive and should eliminate a lot of customer misunderstanding.” See, e.g., ‘“Directory Assistance’ Replacing 
‘Information’ on Telephone Calls,” Observer-Reporter (Washington, PA), August 24, 1968, p. 6A. By the way, 555-1212 
for information wasn’t introduced until 1959. See “For Phone Information, Dial 112 212 555 1212,” New York Times, 
August 7, 1 959, p. 25 <db1000> . 

56 bobby pin into an electrical outlet: Anita Harris (Ralph Barclay’s sister), author interview, 2012. 

57 Touch-tone phones: AT&T rolled out touch-tone telephone service to the general public in late 1963, although trials of 

different versions of pushbutton dialing date as far back as 1948. See Joel Jr., Switching Technology, pp. 336-42. 
Interestingly, one of the early prototypes of touch-tone service used the same tones as those in the multifrequency 
signaling system — and, thus, that blue boxes used. Imagine how much worse AT&T’s fraud problems would have been 
had it inadvertently installed a blue box in every household! 

57 blue box: Memorandum from J. F. Doherty, AT&T director of security, to H. W. Caming, AT&T attorney, February 13, 1 975 
<db415> . This memo states that Barclay’s was the first “blue box” that AT&T was aware of. Barclay says the choice of 
color wasn’t a conscious decision, that it was simply a standard blue metal enclosure (likely from Bud Industries, Barclay 
recalls) commonly used in the electronics industry. 

59 set up in his garage: Barclay remembers, “When that came out later, there were some people who weren’t too happy 
about it.” 

61 pleaded guilty: FBI file 165-HQ-25, September 1961 <db947> ; “Young Scientist Warned to Redirect His Talents,” Grant 
County Journal, September 18, 1961, p. 1 <db573> : UPI, “Student Accused of Phone Fraud,” Spokane Chronicle, 
September 16, 1961 <db575> . 

Chapter 6: “Some People Collect Stamps” 

Much of the material in this chapter comes from author interviews conducted with Charlie Pyne, Tony Lauck, and Ed Ross, 

as well as FBI files. 

66 special telephone operators: For a list of Oxx and 1 xx operator codes, see . 

67 particularly proud of one call: Tape recording provided by Charlie Pyne, undated but likely 1 959 or 1 960 <db521 > . 

68 It also functioned: Sam Smith, “Magna Cum Probation: Falling from Grace at Harvard U,” from Multitudes: The 

Unauthorized Memoirs of Sam Smith, 1999, at . “The Network” was shorthand for the 
station’s original call letters, WHCN: the Harvard/Crimson Network. 

69 connect their telephone switches: A privately run telephone system, such as for a university or a big company, was 
called a “private branch exchange,” or PBX. Like early telephone exchanges, these started out as purely manual affairs, 
with an operator sticking plugs into jacks at a switchboard. As automated switching developed, it became more common 
for institutions to have their own automatic switching systems; such an exchange was properly called a “private automatic 

branch exchange” or PABX. 

70 tie up all the lines: “Telephone Hackers Active,” The Tech (MIT student newspaper), November 20, 1 963 <db451 > . The 
article notes that “two or three students are expelled each year [from MIT] for abuses on the phone system” and that 
“hackers have accomplished such things as tying up all the tie-lines between Harvard and MIT, or making long-distance 
calls by charging them to a local radar installation. One method involved connecting the PDP-1 computer to the phone 
system to search the lines until a dialtone, indicating an outside line, was found.” This article is often cited as the first 

published use of the word hacker in its modern meaning. 

71 Fine Arts 13 notebook: Charlie Pyne, “Fine Arts 13,” 1963 <db91 7> . 

72 Notes on Distance Dialing: Notes on Distance Dialing became a staple phone phreak technical reference. AT&T 
published versions of it in 1 956 <db996>, 1 968 <db1001>. and 1 975 <db1 002> . A 1 955 predecessor was called Notes 
on Nationwide Dialing <db995>. and its 1 980 successor was Notes on the Network. 

76 sound of the telephone line: Telephone lines behaved slightly differently — and sounded slightly different — once billing 
had started. In particular, momentarily depressing the hook switch had a very different sound once billing had started. 

76 black box: See chapter 8 for details. 

77 Ernie Reid: Pyne, Lauck, and Ross met Reid through a blind student at Harvard named Robert Holdt. 

77 Heckel also had a nine a.m. appointment: Pyne recalls Heckel having an appointment with his dean at MIT, but FBI 
records do not confirm this. 

80 According to an FBI memo: FBI file 65-HQ-681 69, serial 2, April 24, 1 963, p. 3 <db1 003> . 

80 As the FBI memo put it: Ibid. 

80 spy ring: “FBI Smashes Spy Ring,” Boston Globe , July 3, 1963, p. 1 ; Seth S. King, “Britain Convicts All Five in Spy Trial,” 
New York Times, March 23, 1 961 , p. 1 . 

81 all attended one of their country’s top universities: “New Reports on Philby Spy Case of ’63 Vex Britain,” New York 
Times , October 8, 1 967. 

81 prosecuted for making free phone calls: FBI file 65-HQ-681 69, serial 3, May 1 , 1 963 <db1 003> . The relevance of the 
federal Fraud by Wire statute (1 8 USC 1 343) would be debated within the Justice Department several times before it was 
eventually decided that it could be used to prosecute toll fraud cases; see chapter 7. 

81 urgent FBI teletype message: FBI file 65-HQ-68169, serial 10, May 8, 1963 <db1003> . 

81 remarkably evenhanded: FBI file 65-HQ-681 69, serial 9, May 5, 1 963 <db1 003> . 

83 solved one final mystery: The story of Pyne, Lauck, Ross, and Heckel was told, minus their names, on the front page of 
the Boston Herald in 1 966. Indeed, this was the story that Jake Locke discovered, as discussed in chapter 1 . Three of the 

four went on to be featured in a photograph in Fortune magazine a bit later that same year: “AT&T thought it had an 
unbeatable system for billing its long-distance phone customers — until a group of college students turned up who 
cracked it: Charles Pyne, 22, a Harvard engineering senior, Tony Lauck, 22, a '65 Harvard graduate who now programs 
computers for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory, and Paul Heckel, 25, MIT ’63 and now a systems analyst for 
G.E. With two other friends, they painstakingly worked out ways calling free to any phone in the US — and some in Europe 
— first by tracking down the codes they reached internal phone company operators, and later with a home built ‘blue box’ 
that rang numbers electronically. They were interested in displaying their analytical prowess, not in bilking the phone 
company. ‘Anything that man can devise can be undevised,’ is the way Heckel explains the principle that guided them. 
‘The undevising is a challenge.’” See Ron Kessler, “Student Dialers Play Their Way to Global Phone Calls, Non-Pay,” 

Boston Herald, May 27, 1 966, p. 1 <db471 > : and Fortune, July 1 , 1 966, p. 34 <db472> . 

Chapter 7: Headache 

85 more than $1 .4 billion: AT&T Long Lines Department, Our Company and How It Operates, 1 960, p. 98. The $1 .4 billion 
figure represents the difference between AT&T Long Lines plant investment between 1940 and 1960 — a low estimate, 
since it includes depreciation but does not include any investment by Bell Laboratories, Western Electric, or the Bell 
operating companies. 

86 “brilliant but disturbed teenager”: UPI, “Lonely Boy Devises Way of Placing Free Long Distance Calls,” Milwaukee 
Journal, July 1 7, 1 963, p. 1 . 

86 Hoyt Stearns, John Treichler: For more information on these two see http :// m/extras/stearns and . 

86 Louis MacKenzie: Obituary of Louis G. MacKenzie, Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, vol. 23, no. 4, May 1975, 
p. 352. 

86 Los Angeles International Airport: Nagy Khattar (president of MacKenzie Laboratories), author interview, 2007. 
According to Khattar, the voice used for the Los Angeles International Airport recordings belonged to Addison Taylor, 
MacKenzie Laboratories’ then head of sales. Taylor and his wife were also the voice talent used in the spoof of the 

recordings in Airplane! 

87 Sensing a business opportunity: Robert LaFond Sr. (an employee of MacKenzie Labs who was arrested with Louis 
MacKenzie in 1965), author interview, 2007. See also “Engineers Pay Toll for Phone ‘Business,’” Los Angeles Times, 
April 9, 1966, p. SG10 <db469>. and Bob DiSteffano, “Pasadena Man, Employee Indicted in Sale of Phone-Bilking 
Device,” Independent (Pasadena, CA), December 8, 1 965, p. 1 <db749> . Although MacKenzie was correct in stating that 
selling blue boxes in California was legal in 1963, by 1965 the law had changed, hence his subsequent arrest. I have 
been unable to locate a videotape of the CBS news interview with MacKenzie’s lawyer, despite it being mentioned in a 
newspaper article and by two interviewees. 

87 the mob: Ken Hopper, author interview, 2006. Sometime in the 1 960s a security consultant to AT&T named Alan Tritter 
showed the attache case blue box to Charlie Pyne, Tony Lauck, and Ed Ross, the telephone hackers from Harvard back 
in 1 963. One of the Harvard trio remarked that it was much larger than it needed to be, in fact, that the blue box they had 
built with Paul Heckel at MIT was much smaller. True, allowed Tritter. But wasn’t it much more impressive this way? If your 
goal was to sell expensive stuff to the mob and get them to pay top dollar for it, Tritter asked, wasn’t this clever 
packaging? Sadly, the truth appears to be more mundane. In a 2008 email interview, one of the people who had a hand 
in making these boxes said that they were designed and built around 1 962 by a group of five telephone enthusiasts who 
worked at a navy research lab in Pasadena, California. They were made simply for their own edification, he said, and 
there was no mob involvement. 

88 “Slash Communication Costs with TELA-TONE”: Memorandum to Mr. Lesher and Mr. Ohlbaum of the Federal 
Communications Commission from Donald F. Clark, attorney, AT&T, April 27, 1965 (“the Clark memo”). The Clark memo 
is Exhibit B of a Memorandum for the Commission from Henry Geller, general counsel, and Bernard Strassburg, chief, 
Common Carrier Bureau, Federal Communications Commission, May 1 4, 1 965 (“the Geller memo”) <db482> . 

88 “TOLL Free Distance Dialing”: Classified ad, Popular Electronics, January 1964, p. 1 15 <db1 004> . 

88 “The advertiser has admitted”: Clark memo, p. 6. 

89 covered mail fraud: Two laws protected the U.S. Post Office against fraud: 18 USC 1720 and 18 USC 1722, both of 
which were passed by Congress after the mail fraud statute (1 8 USC 1 341 ) was enacted. If 1 341 protected the post office 
from fraud, why did Congress need to add 1720 and 1722? And if 1341 did not protect the post office from fraud, and 
since 1343 was almost identical in language to 1341, then 1343 must not protect the phone company. As Nathanial 
Kossack (the Justice Department lawyer who helped write section 1343) forecast, these arguments would indeed be 
brought up in blue box cases a few years later. See, e.g., Brief for Appellants, Kenneth Herbert Hanna and Nathan 
Modell, appellants, v. United States of America, Appellee, Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern 
District of Florida, June 22, 1 967, p. 1 9 <db321 > . 

90 organized crime: Geller memo, p. 2. 

90 two-hundred-word run-on sentence: “Proposed Statute Proscribing the Fraudulent Obtaining of Telecommunication 
Service,” Exhibit A to the Geller memo. 

90 “A criminal sanction is needed”: Clark memo, p. 5. 

90 “too broad a sweep”: Geller memo, p. 2. 

90 “collection agency”: Ibid. 

91 quarter of a billion to a billion: Bill Caming, author interview, 2007. Testimony of H. W. William Caming in “Surveillance: 
Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties, and the Administration of Justice of the Committee on the 
Judiciary of the United States House of Representatives,” February 2, 1975, p. 220 <db480> (hereinafter Caming, 

91 “no assurance at all”: Ibid. 

91 “You guys created this mess!”: Hopper, author interview, 2006. 

92 blank check: Ibid. 

92 stamped with a star, dress uniform hat: Ibid. 

92 began in 1962: “ALEX Archive Item Report, Item Number FIL-01 15-021922,” AT&T Archives, Warren, New Jersey. This is 
a summary sheet to the AT&T Archives file on Project Greenstar development. Unfortunately, the file itself could not be 
located, but the summary sheet indicates the creation date of the file as June 26, 1 962. 

92 “We devised six experimental units”: Caming, “Surveillance,” p. 220. 

93 connected to a hundred outgoing long-distance trunk lines: More details: each Greenstar unit was made up of five 
subunits, each capable of monitoring twenty trunk lines. Each subunit had one tape recorder, which is why a total of five 
lines could be monitored simultaneously. See ibid., p. 225, and Louis J. Rose, “Bell Secretly Monitored Millions of Toll 

Calls,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 21 , 1 975 <db44> . 

93 As Caming described it: Caming, “Surveillance," pp. 220-21 . 

94 “If Greenstar judged”: Black box calls were initially recorded for ninety seconds, but this was reduced to sixty seconds in 
‘‘late 1 966 or early 1 967.” Recording of blue box calls eventually was limited to five minutes. See ibid., p. 221 . 

94 33 million, between 1 .5 and 1 .8 million: Ibid., p. 228. 

94 “We had to have statistics”: Ibid., p. 220. 

94 “25,000 cases of known illegality”, “350,000 fraudulent calls”: Ibid., p. 222. 

95 “It was immediately recognized”: Ibid., p. 21 0. 

95 “Genghis Khan”: Ibid., p. 218. 

95 “decline to prosecute”: Rose, “Bell Secretly Monitored Millions of Toll Calls.” 

96 “Change the name”: During my interviews with Bill Caming I often used the term Greenstar in our discussions. Ever the 
AT&T attorney, he would periodically correct me: “No, that’s not its name. That was an internal code name that we 
stopped using.” Sometime later I visited the AT&T Archives in Warren, New Jersey, which maintains a computerized index 
of old Bell System files. I typed in “Greenstar” and watched the display light up like a Christmas tree as it found relevant 
documents. When I mentioned this to Caming a few days later, he gave a rueful laugh and responded, “Well, I guess you 
can't keep a good name down.” 

96 two parts to Caming’s reasoning: Before 1968, the federal wiretapping law was Section 605 of Title 18 of the United 
States Code. It was a strangely written law. As discussed in the next chapter, section 605 did not make wiretapping 
(“interception”) itself illegal. Rather, to commit a crime under 605 you had to both intercept a communication and then 
disclose the contents of the communication to someone else. Clearly when Greenstar recorded a call and a human 
listened to it, there was an interception, but because the trained operator listening to the tapes never discussed the 
contents of the communication (just the signaling of the call itself), there was no disclosure, and thus, AT&T asserted, no 
crime. In 1 968 the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act became the new law that governed wiretapping — but that 
law had specific carve outs for random monitoring and interception of communications by telephone company personnel 
attempting to protect the assets of the telephone company. 

96 “imprimatur”: Caming, “Surveillance,” pp. 243-44. 

96 Congressional Research Service: Ibid., p. 234. 

97 “Lonely Boy”: “Lonely Boy Devises Way of Placing Free Long Distance Calls.” 

Chapter 8: Blue Box Bookies 

Much of the background material on bookies, organized crime, gambling, and the FBI’s prosecution efforts of same comes 

from author interviews conducted in 2007 with former FBI special agents Edwin J. Sharp and Warren Welsh and former U.S. 

attorney Bill Earle, as well as FBI files. 

98 “Hit the door”: Description of Special Agents Heist and Roussell’s entry into Flanna’s apartment from United States v. 
Hanna, District Court of the United States for the Southern District of Florida, Transcript of Proceedings on Motion to 
Suppress, September 1 2, 1 966, pp. 62-85 <db306> . 

99 the line: The description of “the line” given here is for point-spread betting, common among bookmakers and gamblers 
for sports betting in the 1 960s. Today “the line” may also refer to the money line, which is a different way of expressing 
odds. See Richard O. Davies and Richard G. Abram, Betting the Line: Sports Wagering in American Life (Columbus, OH : 
Ohio State University Press, 2001), pp. 53-57, and Gregory Curtis, “The Wizard of Odds,” Texas Monthly, December 
1 973, pp. 78-83. 

100 $20 billion: “The Conglomerate of Crime,” Time, August 22, 1969 <db1 005> . 

100 “it ends up feeding something else”: Warren Welsh, author interview, 2007. 

100 “bankrollers and kingpins”: “Robert Kennedy Urges New Laws to Fight Rackets,” New York Times, April 7, 1961 , p. 1 ; 
Robert H. Boyle, “The Bookies Close Up Shop,” Sports Illustrated, September 3, 1 962 <db1006> . 

101 $250,000 of bets: “Crime: No. 1 1 Off the Boards,” Time, March 2, 1970 <db793> . 

101 “Beckley lived”, twenty thousand cards’ worth: FBI file 165-PIQ-1999 <db953> : Edwin J. Sharp, author interview, 

101 cheese boxes: “‘Cheesebox,’ Remote Control Phone Device, Leads to Raid on Bookmaking Pleadquarters,” New York 

Times, November 18, 1950, p. 32 <db6> . The 1974 book Cheesebox by Paul S. Meskil with Gerald M. Callahan 
(Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Flail, 1 974), pp. 171-81 , claims, incorrectly, that the cheese box was invented five years 
later in 1955. 

102 empty apartment with a pair of telephone lines: Gambling and Organized Crime: Plearings Before the Permanent 
Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations of the United States Senate, 75th 
Congress, first session, part 1, August 22, 23, 24, and 25, 1961, pp. 242-99 <db448> (hereafter, “Gambling and 
Organized Crime”). 

102 bribing telephone company operators and technicians: Some examples: “U.S. Jury Indicts 13 in Betting Ring,” New 

York Times , June 28, 1961, p. 20 <db1 2>. in which Gil Beckley, Benjamin and Robert Lassoff, Myron Deckelbaum, and 
more than a dozen others were arrested for bribing telephone company employees to make long-distance calls for them; 
FBI file 92-HQ-4957 serial, 1 0 <db812>, describing a conspiracy starting in 1 952 in which alleged bookies and telephone 
company employees “endeavored to conceal from IRS the existence and scope of their widespread horse race betting 
and other gambling activities by securing free unauthorized long distance telephone service, through the services of 
telephone company longlines repairmen, as a consequence of which no records would be made concerning the phone 

calls made by defendants . . and, later, in United States v. Gilbert L. Beckley , John C. Lowe, and James C. Gunter, 
United States District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Criminal No. 24,1 67, January 7, 1 965. 

102 bogus credit card numbers: “Bookmaking Raids Staged in 9 Cities,” New York Times, January 9, 1 966 <db1 7> . 

102 legitimate telephone credit cards: FBI file 92-FIQ-3051 , serials 53 and 54, September 6, 1960, p. 19 <db814> . 

102 Walter Shaw: “Gambling and Organized Crime,” pp. 242-99. 

103 “some type of instrument”, “surprising decrease”: FBI file 92 HQ-3051, serial 54, page C, September 15, 1960 

<db814> . 

103 arrested in Miami: UPI, “Inventor Seized as Telephone Cheater,” New York Times, March 31, 1961, p. 28; see also, 
“Gambling and Organized Crime.” 

104 MacKenzie: United States v. McCay, Brandon, Gautreaux, and Danford, No. 66-76 Criminal, United States District 
Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, Transcript of Proceedings, August 8, 1966, pp. 128-35 <db382> . 

104 “using devices”: FBI file 165-BS-532, serial 1 , August 2, 1 965 <db922> and <db950> . 

104 targeting bookies and organized crime: 1 8 USC 1 084, introduced in 1 961 . 

104 “indicated their desire”: FBI file 165-BS-532. 

105 The caller told Doyle: Testimony of Gerard J. Doyle in United States v. Hanna, pp. 4-49. 

105 connect Hanna with TARCASE: FBI file 1 65-BS-532, serial 8, September 1 , 1 965 <db922> and <db950> . 

107 dash for the bathroom: United States v. Hanna and Model!, 66-69-CR, Opinion on Motion to Suppress Evidence, 260 
F. Supp 430, September 26, 1 966 <db308> . 

107 raids in other cities: “Bookmaking Raids Staged in Nine Cities.” 

107 “used a chauffeur-driven Cadillac”: AP, “FBI Says It Broke Up Bookie Ring in Nine Cities,” Lowell Sunday Sun, 
January 9, 1966, p. 38. 

1 07 “most successful”: FBI file 92-HQ-3625, serial 293, January 8, 1 966. 

108 all of Bubis’s calls: United States v. Bubis, Loman, and Beckley, No. 36270-CD, United States District Court, Southern 
District of California, Central Division, Complaint for Violation of U.S.C. Title 1 8 Section 1 084, Affidavit of Charles Bitner, 
May 24, 1 966 <db1007> . 

108 “crippling blow”: FBI file 166-HQ-1 765, serial 82, May 25, 1966 <db1 008> . 

108 mob attorney Ben Cohen: See, for example, Paul Jewett, The Mob and the Flock: Memories of a Twentieth Century 
Shepherd (Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 201 0), pp. 1 32-33; Stuart B. Mclver, Touched by the Sun: The Florida Chronicles, 

Volume 3 (Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2001), pp. 80-87; and U.S. Senate Special Committee to Investigate 
Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, Interim Report on Investigations in Florida and Preliminary General 
Conclusions, August 1 8, 1 950 (the Kefauver Committee). 

108 $40 million: Charles L. Fontenay, Estes Kefauver: A Biography (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1 980), p. 

173; Steven Gaines, Fools Paradise: Players, Poseurs, and the Culture of Excess in South Beach (New York: Three 
Rivers Press, 2009), p. 45. 

108 balding head, etc.: Cohen description from Fred Othman, “Good Boys Now,” Pittsburgh Press, August 30, 1951 , quoted 
in FBI file 63-HQ-7046, serial 23 <db1009> . 

109 “We submit”: United States v. Hanna, p. 89. 

110 “Now, there is no omnipotence”: Ibid., pp. 90-92. 

1 1 0 “[W]hat is the telephone company to do with it?”: Ibid., p. 96. 

111 willfully: United States v. Loman, Bubis, and Beckley, pp. 9-1 1 . 

111 Hanna and Modell were both convicted: Amusingly, Hanna's attorneys argued that Hanna did not have a “blue box” 
because the box he had was “black with red buttons.” The court was not persuaded: “It is evident that the term ‘blue box’ 
is nominative rather than descriptive, that is, it is the term by which the device is commonly known and, except by 

accident, has no reference to its actual color. [. . .] Implicit in this is the fact that whether blue, black with red buttons, red 
with black buttons, umber or indigo, the device is still called a ‘blue box.”' United States v. Hanna and Modell. 

1 1 2 “While we realize”: Alvin Bubis, Appellant, v. United States of America, Appellee, United States Court of Appeals Ninth 

Circuit, 384 F.2d 643, October 20, 1 967 <db1012> . 

112 “Congress may have thought”: Hanna and Modell, Appellants, v. United States, Appellee, United States Court of 
Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, 393 F.2d 700, March 5, 1 968 <db325> . 

113 petitioned for a rehearing: Hanna and Modell, Appellants, v. United States, Appellee, United States Court of Appeals 
for the Fifth Circuit, Petition for Rehearing En Banc, March 26, 1968. 

1 1 3 Within the past few years: Hanna and Modell, Appellants, v. United States, Appellee, United States Court of Appeals 
for the Fifth Circuit, Brief of American Telephone and Telegraph as Amicus Curiae, May 7, 1 968 <db328> . 

1 1 4 “On original hearing”: Hanna and Modell, Appellants, v. United States, Appellee, United States Court of Appeals for the 
Fifth Circuit, Order on Rehearing, 404 F.2d 405, November 1 8, 1 968 <db330> . 

114 “Outside of an opening salutation”: The appeals court adopted more like three pages of Caming’s brief but, 
nonetheless, it was still a home run. 

Chapter 9: Little Jojo Learns to Whistle 

As explained in my epilogue, Joe Engressia legally changed his name to Joybubbles in 1991, hence the references to 

Joybubbles in the notes below. Much of the material in this chapter comes from interviews with Joybubbles (both mine and 

other published interviews), as well as newspaper articles. 

117 “Hang up the phone”: Toni Engressia, author interview, 2008. 

1 1 8 “I won’t lie to you”: Ibid. 

118 “Before I was four”: John Fail and Chris Strunk, “A Conversation with Joybubbles,” May 9, 1998, at <db972> . 

118 “I didn’t like play”: Ibid. 

118 “It was all I could do”: Toni Engressia speaking on the Joybubbles memorial telephone conference, September 16, 

1 1 8 “I used to ask what time it was”: Tape recording of a speech Engressia gave to an unknown community group, 1 974 
<db1014> (hereinafter, Engressia speech, 1 974). 

118 “I thought, well, if 3 is 3 away”: Ibid., and tape recording of a speech Engressia gave to a different group, 1978 
<db958> . 

119 “The principle of science”: Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, and Matthew Sands, The Feynman Lectures on 
Physics: The Definitive Edition , volume I (Boston: Addison Wesley, 2005), p. 1-1 . 

1 1 9 “Through the years”: Engressia speech, 1 974. 

119 “His sister recalls”: Toni Engressia speaking on the Joybubbles memorial telephone conference, September 16, 
2007; “emergency room”: Joybubbles, “Stories and Stuff,” May 8, 2004, at - stories and stuff - 20040508. mp3 . 

1 1 9 “Most people”: Engressia speech, 1 974. 

120 “We met a phone man”: Joybubbles, author interview, 2006. 

120 The Engressias moved a lot: Ibid.; Toni Engressia, author interview, 2008; and other Joybubbles/Engressia published 

120 “Daddy hated the snow”: Toni Engressia, author interview, 2008. 

121 “I learned a whole lot”: Engressia speech, 1 974. 

122 “I was seven or eight”: “A Conversation with Joybubbles.” 

123 “I got $2.50 a week”: Engressia speech, 1974. 

123 Dade County Junior College: Bill Acker, author interview, 2008. 

123 “I can whistle like a bird”: Leslie Taylor, “Blind Student Dials Trouble,” USF Oracle , November 27, 1968, p. 1 
<db1015> . Past-tense quotes and material describing Engressia’s USF whistling escapades are from the following 
newspaper articles: “Whistler Started Young," USF Oracle, November 27, 1968, p. 1 <db1 01 6> : Harry Haigley, “If You 
Want Long Distance, Just Whistle,” St. Petersburg Evening Independent, November 27, 1968, p. 1 <db932> ; “Whistle 
Has Connections,” St. Petersburg Times, November 28, 1968, p. B1 <db931 >: “Hearing Postponed for The Whistler,'” St. 
Petersburg Times, December 6, 1968 <db933> : “The ‘Whistler’ Back at USF,” USF Oracle; December 8, 1 968 <db1 01 7> ; 
“USF to Rule Today on Whistler’s Fate,” St. Petersburg Times, December 1 1 , 1968, p. 4B <db934> : “Telephone Whistler 
Connects, Permitted to Stay in School,” Miami Herald-Tribune, December 1 2, 1 968, p. 1 0 <db935>: “USF ‘Whistler’ Stays 
in School,” St. Petersburg Times, December 12, 1968, p. B1 <db936> . 

124 roughly $17 today: Federal Communications Commission, “Statistics of Communications Common Carriers, 

1995/1996,” Table 7.1, p. 280, at Carrier/Reports/FCC- 
State Link/SOCC/95socc.pdf . 

125 “Your brother has been doing something illegal”: Toni Engressia, author interview, 2008. 

126 received a letter in the mail: FBI file 1 39-FIQ-3481 , August 27, 1 969 <db878>. and FBI file 1 0O-KC-1 3546, August 27, 
1 969 <db866> . 

126 Engressia’s introduction to B. David: By 1969 B. David was no longer going by that particular pseudonym, but for 
consistency I use that name throughout this book. 

127 tricked a switchman: FBI file 1 39-HQ-3481 , serial 1 5, September 1 , 1 969, p. 3 <db878> . 

127 “a good deal of discussion”: Ibid., p. 4. 

127 Though he wouldn’t tell Bureau agents: FBI file 1 39-FIQ-3481 , serial 1 , August 27, 1 969, p. 2 <db878> . It is possible 
that the Southwestern Bell security agent was being coy because his source was Greenstar. One of the Greenstar units 
had been moved to St. Louis, Missouri, in January 1967, just a few hundred miles away from Kansas City. And later, 
when the Southwestern Bell agent finally did tell the FBI about where the information had come from, an FBI teletype 
message noted, “Bureau will protect this source’s identity because it would jeopardize not only [our] contact’s 
employment but would probably destroy the amicable relations between the phone company and the Bureau.” See FBI 
file 1 39-HQ-3481 , serial 5, August 28, 1 969, p. 3. 

127 “highly classified, Top Secret”: Ibid. 

128 “the activities of Engressia and Way”: FBI file 139-FIQ-3481 , serial 3, August 27, 1969, p. 1 <db878> . 

128 posterior-covering letters: FBI file 139-HQ-3481, serials 11,12, and 13, August 29, 1969 <db878> . 

128 “not a sufficient indication”: FBI file 139-FIQ-3481 , unnumbered serial (memo from director, FBI, to assistant attorney 
general, Criminal Division, Department of Justice), September 3, 1 969 <db878> . 

128 “is believed to be totally unreliable”: FBI file 139-HQ-3481, unnumbered serial (memo from FBI Kansas City to 
director, FBI), September 8, 1 969. See also FBI file 1 39-HQ-3482 <db878> . 

128 “I didn’t really know why I had come”: Andrew T. Huse, interview with Joybubbles, University of South Florida Oral 
History Program, August 23, 2004. 

129 “be a man”: Engressia speech, 1 974. 

129 “as a switchboard operator”: Ibid. 

130 “I got desperate”: Ibid. 

130 “I decided”: Ibid. 

130 “This was in late April”: Ibid. 

130 “going to call Russia”: “A Conversation with Joybubbles.” 

131 “NORAD”: Engressia speech, 1974. 

131 “I have only until July”: Ibid. 

131 “I remember one time”: Ibid. 

131 “tapping the tappers”: Ibid. 

132 “freely shown”: “Police Apprehend Phone-Addicted USF Whistler,” St. Petersburg Times , June 4, 1971 <db937> . 

132 “I was gonna call”: Engressia speech, 1974. 

132 “complex telephone equipment”: “Police Apprehend Phone-Addicted USF Whistler.” 

132 “I’ve done wrong”: AP, “Long-Distance Whistler Draws $1 0 Fine,” St. Petersburg Times, June 1 0, 1 971 <db940> . 

132 $1 bail: AP, “Fascinated with Phones,” Montreal Gazette, June 5, 1971, p. 2 <db938> . 

1 32 “Some folks are on dope”: “Police Apprehend Phone-Addicted USF Whistler.” 

133 “driving them crazy”: AP, “Blind Lad Quits Fraud, Joins Phone Firm,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 21, 1971, p. 3A 
<db941 > . 

133 “sixty days in jail”: AP, “Long-Distance Whistler Draws $1 0 Fine.” 

133 friendly knock: Joybubbles, author interview, 2006. 

134 “four job offers”: Engressia speech, 1974; AP, “Several Job Offers Given to Blind Man,” Hartford Courant, June 12, 
1971. p.2 <db959> . 

134 “I guess they’ll have me do”: AP, “Blind Lad Quits Fraud, Joins Phone Firm.” 

134 “I don’t recommend”: Engressia speech, 1974. For more on Engressia’s life at Millington, see . 

Chapter 10: Bill Acker Learns to Play the Flute 

Much of the material in this chapter comes from author interviews with Bill Acker. 

142 the tones were distorted: According to Acker this is typical of crossbar tandem switching equipment. 

144 computer-generated reports of supervision irregularities: Ken Hopper, author interview, 2006; testimony of Wallace 

S. Swenson, United States v. Thomas McCay, Herman D. Brandon , Sylvester E. Gautreaux , Jr., and Glenn S. Danford, 
United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, Transcript of Proceedings, August 8, 1966, pp. 188-90 

<db382> . 

145 something called an 800 number: 800 numbers were more properly referred to as “Inward Wide Area 
Telecommunications Service,” or INWATS, and were introduced in 1 967. See “AT&T Files Rate Cut of $5 Million a Year 
for Fixed-Fee Long-Distance Telephoning,” Wall Street Journal, December 2, 1966. 

Chapter 1 1 : The Phone Freaks of America 

Much of the material in this chapter comes from author interviews with Bill Acker, John Draper, Jim Fettgather, Denny Teresi, 
and other phone phreaks. 

147 busy signals that were shared: Information on busy signal conferences from my interviews with Rick Plath, 2008; Jim 
Fettgather, 2008; Denny Teresi, 2007; and Bill Acker, 2007. According to Acker, most busy signal conferences were step- 
by-step PBX equipment, though some were occasionally found on crossbar exchanges. 

147 party line broken recording numbers: As with the busy signal conferences, these tended to be step-by-step PBX 
equipment. Phone phreak Evan Doorbell (a pseudonym) has documented “party lines” in the New York area from the 
early 1970s in detail in his charming and wonderfully researched audio series “How Evan Doorbell Became a Phone 

Phreak,” available at . 

148 213-286-0213 and -0214: 213-737-1 1 18 and -1119 would have been more realistic examples. Phone phreaks spent a 
great deal of time collecting and trading loop around numbers; for a list, see . 

149 Rick Plath: Plath, author interview, 2008. 

149 Al Diamond: For more see . 

150 Mark Bernay: For more see . 

150 “It was like CB radio”: Ibid. 

151 Airman First Class Draper: Draper physical description from FBI file 87-HQ-1 21 1 89, serial 1, May 4, 1972 <db883> . 
Background on Draper’s childhood from Steve Long, “Captain Crunch: Super Phone Phreak,” High Times, June 1977, p. 

50 <db923>, and Chris Rhodes, “The Twilight Years of Cap’n Crunch," Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2007, p. 1 
<db990> . 

1 51 expecting a call from an old friend: Over the years Draper has told several different versions of the story of how he first 
met Denny Teresi. Teresi says he does not remember the details. I have elected to use in my recounting the elements 
common to most stories. 

153 “a chubby kid”: Draper notes, undated but circa the mid-1970s. 

153 “drove over to Teresi’s friend”: Recollections differ slightly on this point. Draper says he met Teresi and they drove 
over to Fettgather’s house. Fettgather says he was at Teresi’s house to begin with. 

154 you had to press two of the six: John Draper, author interview, 2008. 

154 Sid Bernay had discovered: Mark Bernay and Sid Bernay email exchange, 2010. Sid Bernay recalls: “I had heard that 
2,600 cycles could interrupt long distance. I called a West Covina number, and when it started to ring, blew the Cap’n 
Crunch whistle and it ‘choinked.’ I covered one hole, and it still happened. Thus the discovery. I was a freshman at UCLA 
at the time, so I’m guessing 1 964 or 1 965. Also, Oscar Meyer whistles worked, too, but not all. Apparently weren’t exactly 

156 the network expanded from there: Author interviews of Acker, Teresi, and Fettgather. 

157 The Machine, VERMONT, Z, ZZ, ZZZ, Superphone: For history and recordings of the Machine and other Los Angeles 
telephone joke lines see “Phone Recordings, Los Angeles Area & Beyond,” at . 

158 weren’t allowed to connect: See the Carterfone case discussion in chapter 20. 

158 “The national switched telephone network”: John D. deButts quoted in Steve Coll, The Deal of the Century: The Break 
Up of AT&T (New York: Atheneum, 1 986), p. 1 05. 

158-159 Hush-A-Phone: “Phone Company Upheld in Ban on Hush-A-Phone,” New York Times, February 17, 1951, p. 29 
<db1 01 8>; “Hush-A-Phone Hits Back at AT&T,” New York Times, March 24, 1951 , p. 25 <db1 01 9>; “Phone Device Ban 
by AT&T Upheld,” New York Times, December 24, 1 955 <db1 020>. p. 20; “Court Removes Ban Against Phone Device,” 
New York Times, November 9, 1 956, p. 25 <db1 021 >; and 238 F.2d 266, HUSH-A-PHONE CORPORATION and Harry C. 

Tuttle, Petitioners, v. UNITED STATES of America and Federal Communications Commission, Respondents, American 
Telephone and Telegraph Company et al ., and United States Independent Telephone Association, Interveners, No. 
13175, United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, 99 U.S. App. D.C. 190; 238 F.2d 266; 1956 U.S. App. 
LEXIS 4023, October 4, 1 956, Argued, November 8, 1 956, Decided. 

159-160 was born the Machine: Tom Politeo, author interview, 2008. 

161 called the Old Man: Bill Acker, author interview, 2008. 

161 “number five crossbar”: Ibid. 

162 teletype machines: For a fascinating history of teletypes and the Teletype Corporation, see Teletype Corporation, The 
Teletype Story , 1 958, available at storv.pdf . 

165 International Society of Telephone Enthusiasts: Acker, author interview, 2011. Again, B. David was going by a 
different handle at this point in time, but for continuity I am continuing to use “B. David” as his pseudonym. 

166 Mark Bernay Society: For more on the Mark Bernay Society, see . 

Chapter 1 2: The Law of Unintended Consequences 

Much of the material in this chapter comes from author interviews with Al Gilbertson and Ron Rosenbaum. 

171 “Alice in Wonderland”: Hackers: Electronic Outlaws, History Channel, 2001 . 

171 “Mr. Intense” and Draper idiosyncrasies: Author interviews with Bill Acker and Jim Fettgather, 2008, and several 
sources who prefer to remain anonymous. 

172 “When I talked to Ron”: John Draper, “Cap’n Crunch Comments on the Esquire Article,” at Boxes/Blue Boxes. Esquire Article.comments <db485> . A 
three-thousand word analysis of the Esquire article, this was apparently first posted on the WELL conference system 
around 1 998 at . 

172 “Secrets of the Little Blue Box”: Ron Rosenbaum, “Secrets of the Little Blue Box,” Esquire, October 1 971 , p. 1 16. 

174 “I thought he spiced it up too much”: Gilbertson says that he wasn’t selling blue boxes to the mob, as the article 
described, nor, he says, did he ever claim to be the creator of the blue box. 

174 “technical inaccuracies”: Draper didn’t like them either; Draper, “Cap’n Crunch Comments on the Esquire Article.” 

174 “captured the spirit of it”: Bill Acker, author interview, 201 0. 

175 crossbar tandems could be tricked: Crossbar tandems, also called XBTs, should not be confused with 4A tandems — 
something that is easy to do since, confusingly, 4As also used crossbar switching technology. Crossbar tandems were 
smaller switching machines originally intended for metropolitan use that were later upgraded with features that made 
them suitable for handling the more complex job of long-distance switching. They were used in areas where the bulky 
and brainy 4A wasn’t economical. See A. O. Adam, “Crossbar Tandem as a Long-Distance Switching System,” Bell 
System Technical Journal, vol. 35, pp. 91-1 08, 1 956. 

175 “wink” signal: A wink signal was just a momentary absence of the 2,600 Hz signal sent from the switching machine at 
the far end of your call. The telephone company had electronic filter circuitry that kept subscribers from hearing the 2,600 
Hz signal on long-distance calls. These filters worked great, but when there was a transition in the 2,600 Hz signal — for 
example, when it went away and then came back, as it did during a wink — the circuits resonated for a fraction of a 

second. This resonance was what made the bright metallic kerchink that was such music to a blue boxer’s ears. 

175 KP 099 213 ST: TTC codes were always in the range of 000 to 199 so they wouldn’t interfere with area codes and 
couldn’t be dialed (usually!) by customers. For more on TTC and other Oxx/lxx codes, see . The call routing described for the tandem stacking example represents the 
best recollections of Bill Acker and Evan Doorbell, but they caution that it may not be a hundred percent accurate. 

176 sound like hell: Long-distance calls were typically sent over two pairs of wires — one pair for one direction, say New 
York to Chicago, and one pair for the reverse direction. Unfortunately, crossbar tandems were able to switch only a single 
pair of wires at once. An electronic circuit called a hybrid merged the two pairs of wires used for a long-distance trunk into 
a single pair so they could be switched by a crossbar tandem. The result was a loss in audio quality every time a call went 
through a crossbar tandem. This cumulative audio distortion limited the number of crossbar tandems you could stack up. 
In contrast, 4A switches were true four-wire (two pair) switches and didn’t have this problem. But for phone phreaks, alas, 
4As lacked the bug that allowed them to be stacked up like crossbar tandems. All was not lost, however. See the 
discussion of guard banding in chapter 1 8. 

176 series of phantomlike kerchinky noises: Evan Doorbell has lovingly narrated a recording of tandem stacking from 
1 975. See Evan Doorbell, “Classic Tandem Stacking (January, 1 975),” at . 

177 con telephone employees: The term “social engineering” in the phreak/hacker sense seems to have come into vogue 
in the mid-1 980s, although Bill Acker recalls it being used as early as 1 974 or so. Prior to that the term was “pretexting,” 
that is, calling someone on a pretext to get information or convince them to do something for you. The inventors of that 

term? The FBI, which used pretexting to assist in its investigations. “Like any other accomplishment,” an FBI manual 
advised, “a good pretext is a satisfying experience.” The phone phreaks surely would have agreed. See Federal Bureau 
of Investigation, “Pretexts and Cover Techniques,” 1956, at Pretexts and Cover Techniques Mav-1956.pdf . 

178 “VFG-EXG-270100”: This example is based on actual #1 ESS commands but, because there are still a few #1 ESS 
telephone switches in the wild, the commands have been intentionally altered. 

179 95 percent . . . conducted over the phone: Sonny Kleinfield, The Biggest Company on Earth: A Profile of AT&T (New 
York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1 981 ), p. 1 4. 

1 80 “I knew right then and there”: Hackers: Electronic Outlaws. 

180 “boy genius”: Roy R. Silver, ‘“Blue Box’ Is Linked to Phone Call Fraud,” New York Times , May 6, 1 971 , p. 45 <db25> . 

180 Case Western Reserve: AP, “Theft Is Charged to Students Who Let Fingers Walk Free,” Blade (Toledo, Ohio), May 7, 
1971 p. 19. 

180 Billings, Montana: Georganne Louis, “3 Plead Guilty in Telephone Fraud," Billings Gazette , September 3, 1971, p. 1; 
FBI file 65-HQ-73591 , June 5, 1 970 <db890> . 

180 arrested in Pennsylvania: UPI, “Phreaks” (newswire item), September 28, 1971 <db61 5> . 

181 “For Whom Ma Bell Tolls Not”: Maureen Orth, “For Whom Ma Bell Tolls Not,” Los Angeles Times, October 31 , 1971 , p. 
P28 <db29> . 

181 “mildly mentally unbalanced”: UPI, ‘“Phone Freak’ Probe Hinted,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 18, 1971 , p. 6; 
AP, “ Phone Freak’ to Be Subject of Jury Probe,” St. Petersburg Times, November 19, 1971, p. 20A. 

181 internal AT&T memo: “Toll Fraud,” AT&T memo/press backgrounder, May 18, 1977 <db570> . 

182 Telephone Crime Lab: Ken Hopper, author interview, 2006, and Kenneth D. Hopper, “Bell Telephone Laboratories at 
Holmdel, NJ 1929-1991 and Certain Other Job-Related Memories,” presented to the Holmdel Historical Society, New 
Jersey, January 31 , 1 992. 

182 undersea wiretaps: See, for example, Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of 
American Submarine Espionage (New York: Harper Perennial, 2000), p. 1 89. 

182 Their report to their bosses: C. J. Schulz, “Appraisal of ‘Secrets of the Little Blue Box’ Article in the October 1971 
Esquire Magazine,” Bell Laboratories memo, September 17, 1971 <db397> . 

Chapter 13: Counterculture 

Much of the material in this chapter comes from author interviews with Alan Fierstein. 

185 May Day demonstrations: See, e.g., Richard Halloran, “30,000 Protesters Routed in Capital,” New York Times, May 3, 
1971, p. 1. 

185 Marlon Brando: The Wild One, Columbia Pictures, 1953. 

185 “We are a people”: Youth International Party Manifesto, ca. 1970, quoted in Eric v. d. Luft, Die at the Right Time: A 
Subjective Cultural History of the American Sixties (Baltimore: United Book Press, 2009), p. 437. 

187 free buffalo: Abbie Hoffman, Steal This Book, 2002 reprint, p. 104: “Every year the National Park Service gives away 
surplus elks in order to keep the herds under its jurisdiction from outgrowing the amount of available land for grazing . . . 
Under the same arrangement the government will send you a Free Buffalo. Write to: Office of Information, Department of 
the Interior, Washington, D.C. 20420.” 

187 largest company on earth: AT&T was the largest company in the world as measured by assets or by employees; 
others were larger by revenue. In 1974, for example, General Motors had sales of $35 billion to AT&T’s $26 billion. But 
AT&T had $74 billion in assets to GM’s $20 billion; even accounting for liabilities, AT&T far exceeded it in size. And AT&T 
had more than a million employees, at that time, to GM’s roughly 800,000. 

187 “In a country indissolubly”: Kleinfield, The Biggest Company on Earth, p. 9. 

187 rate hike requests: For a bibliography of AT&T rate increases, see . 

188 $1 per month: Email conversations with members of the Telephone Collectors International mailing list (Yahoo group 
“singingwires”), June 201 1 . 

188 DUE: Brooks, Telephone, p. 299; “Unauthorized Phones Get Their DUE,” Bell Laboratories Record, December 1974 
<db1 022> . 

188 “warm gooey feelings”: I am indebted to Andrea Nemerson for the phrase. 

188 “Cries of frustration”: William K. Stevens, “Phone Users Cite Service Decline,” New York Times, September 22, 1969 
<db1 023> . 

189 “A kind of surrealistic”: Brooks, Telephone, p. 291 . 

189 PLaza 8: Ibid., p. 290; Craig R. Whitney, “Phone Company Official Admits Increasing Difficulties in City,” New York 

Times, October 1 5, 1 969 <db1 024> . 

189 “lousy”: Brooks, Telephone, p. 292, quoting a New York Times article. 

189 “equal to the job”: Stevens, “Phone Users Cite Service Decline.” See also, “Dial-a-Snafu: Phone Foul-Ups Vex More 
Users as Volume of Calls Rises,” Wall Street Journal, February 3, 1969, and Brooks, Telephone, pp. 292-95. 

189 An FCC investigation: “FCC Telephone Probe in Preliminary Phase,” Hartford Courant, September 24, 1969. 

189 “personification of male chauvinism”: Kleinfield, The Biggest Company on Earth, p. 206. 

190 “blacks, women”: Brooks, Telephone, p. 288, and AP, “AT&T Chairman Denies Bias in Employment,” Sarasota 
Herald-Tribune, December 12, 1970, p. 12-A. 

190 another sweeping investigation: Christopher Lydon, “F.C.C. Plans a Wide A.T.&T. Inquiry,” New York Times, January 

22, 1 971 , p. 23 <db1 025> . The Western Electric aspect of the investigation revolved around antitrust issues and the idea 
that AT&T could be hiding profits in its manufacturing subsidiary. 

190 AFL-CIO: “Half a Million Workers Go on Telephone Strike,” Miami News, July 14, 1971, p. 1; Philip Shabecoff, 
“Telephone Strike Scheduled Today,” New York Times, July 14, 1971, p. 1 <db1 026> . 

190 “we call it The System”’: Joseph Goulden, Monopoly (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1 968), p. 1 6. 

190 “as little as possible to the imagination”: Kleinfield, The Biggest Company on Earth, p. 208. 

190 Bell System Practices: A. B. Covey, “The Bell System’s Best Sellers,” Bell Telephone Magazine, Summer 1952, p. 88 
<db1 027> . 

191 “Sweeping, General”: “Sweeping, General,” Bell System Practice 770-130-301, August 1952, available from 30-301 /BSP-770-1 30-301 -pi .html . 

191 “robotic man in a three piece suit”: Irv Slifkin, Videohound’s Groovy Movies: Far Out Films of the Psychedelic Era 
(Canton, Ml: Visible Ink Press, 2004), pp. 52-54. 

191 “find it hard to fault”: Maurice Rapf, “Bright Debut by Slapstick Satirists,” Life, January 26, 1968, p. 8. 

191 “If we do not receive payment”: Lily Tomlin, This Is a Recording, Polydor Records, 1971 . 

192 “They love the character”: Gene Handsaker (AP), “Gal on Laugh-In Talks Spontaneously,” Kentucky New Era, 
February 3, 1970, p. 9. 

192 “We don’t care. We don’t have to.”: Lily Tomlin on Saturday Night Live, season 2, episode 1, September 18, 1976. 
See . 

192 telephone excise tax: Louis Allen Talley, “Telephone Excise Tax,” Congressional Research Service Report for 
Congress, RS20119, September 15, 2000. The tax was largely gutted in 2006; see “U.S. to Repeal Long-Distance 
Telephone Tax,” New York Times, May 26, 2006. 

192 $1.5 billion, 10 percent: “Telephone Excise Tax Receipts 1899-2005,” Tax Policy Center, at . The 10 percent estimate comes from Stephen 
Daggett, “Cost of Major U.S. Wars,” Congressional Research Service, June 29, 2010, at . 

192 make free phone calls and feel good about it: Interestingly, several years earlier AT&T cited the telephone company’s 
duty to collect the telephone excise tax as one of the reasons it was legally obligated to investigate and prosecute 
telephone fraud. See Charles Ryan and FI. W. William Caming, Brief of American Telephone and Telegraph Company as 
Amicus Curiae, in Kenneth Herbert Flanna and Nathan Modell, Appellants, v. United States of America, Appellee, Appeal 
from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, No. 24343, May 7, 1 968 <db328> . 

193 “Fuck the Bell System”: “Fuck the Bell System” was another play on words: in 1 967 Abbie Hoffman wrote a precursor 
to Steal This Book titled Fuck the System, which focused on free and low-cost survival strategies in New York City. 

193 “The response was”: Alan Fierstein, author interview, 2006. 

193 God created pay phones: AT&T preferred the term “coin telephone” to “pay phone”; as far as AT&T was concerned, all 
phones were pay phones. 

194 the percentage of uncollectible credit card: “Credit Card, Third Number and Total Toll Message Uncollectible Study — 
March 1 970,” AT&T internal memo, September 1 0, 1 970 <db406> (referred to below as “Credit Card Study”). 

195 Students for a Democratic Society: See 
democratic -societv-prank-fbi.html . 

195 Steve McQueen: AP, “College Students Use Credit Card for Phone Binge,” Lewiston (Maine) Daily Sun, May 23, 1968, 
p. 24. AT&T memos discussing this include William P. Mullane Jr., Teletypewriter Message to All Bell System Newsmen, 
May 22, 1968 <db1 90>: J. F. Doherty memo to M. Mullane, October 27, 1969 <db524> : “History of 168 Fraud,” AT&T 
memo, February 1 970 <db549> : and “Fraudulent Credit Card Usage, Case #C7-1 3-1 9,” AT&T memo, undated <db548> . 

195 It is evident: “Credit Card Study.” 

195 It is necessary: “Bell System Credit Card Plan-1 971 Cards,” AT&T internal memo, August 7, 1 970 <db405> . 

196 “With all the electronic means”: Bill Acker, author interview, 201 0. 

197 The first underground and college newspapers: See, e.g., “Free Phone Calls,” Dallas Notes, January 24-February 6, 
1 971 <db536>; the same article was published in a number of college or underground newspapers within a week. 

197 “public disservice announcement”: Radio TV Reports, Inc., transcript of Abbie Hoffman appearance on the TV 
program Free Time with Julius Lester, April 7, 1 971 , 1 0:30 p.m. in New York City on WNET-TV <db672> . 

197 rebuttal from Hoffman: Abbie Hoffman, “Dear Russell (Baker That Is),” YIPL, no. 2, July 1 971 , p. 3. 

198 “two thousand and three thousand subscribers”: Bell, author interview, 2006. 

198-199 assumed names and employee home addresses: Ken Hopper, author interview, 2006; Wayne Perrin, author 
interview, 2008. 

199 obtained a copy of this memo: Memorandum from J. F. Doherty, Director, Corporate Security, AT&T, to AT&T Security 
Managers, “Toll Fraud — Y.I.P.L. Publication," October 13, 1972, reprinted in “The AT&T Papers,” YIPL, no. 14, November 
1 972, p. 3. 

Chapter 14: Busted 

201 discount gas station and subsequent descriptions: FBI file 87-HQ-1 21 1 89, serial 3, p. 2, May 1 0, 1 972, and serial 8, 
July 1 0, 1 972, p. 1 2 <db883> . 

202 wrecking ball to the phone phreaks’ home: The 21 1 1 conference continued to exist. The old Vancouver step tandem 
was still in use on the network and its conference could be reached by dialing (with a blue box) KP + 604 + 059 + 2111 + 
ST. It took the phreaks a while to discover this and, once they did, they realized it was less convenient than it had been. 
You could dial into the old 2111 conference merely by using a Cap’n Crunch whistle; the new one required an actual 
blue box, which not every phreak possessed. 

202 open sleeve-lead conference: Telephone lines have two wires, “tip” and “ring.” But inside a step-by-step or crossbar 
central office a third wire is added to each line: “sleeve.” The names refer to the positions of the wires on the plug of an 
operator’s cord. The sleeve lead was used by both operators and automated switching equipment to determine if a line 
was busy or idle. If a line’s sleeve lead was disconnected, the telephone switching equipment could no longer determine 
if a line was in use. The result was that multiple people could call such a number and “pile on,” that is, be connected in 

202 “Charleston and . . . Benton Harbor”: Bill Acker, author interview, 2008. 

202 time-honored technique of scanning: According to Bill Acker, the 2111 gang referred to such exhaustive dialing as 
“Janning, ” in honor of a phone phreak named Jan from the United Kingdom who was particularly fond of the approach. 

203 its new name was 052: For audio recordings of the 052 conference from January 1972, see “Phreaks from Esquire 
Article on ‘052’ Conference,” parts 1 and 2, at htto://www. . 

204 650 Bell System security agents: AP, “Though Weaponless, Telephone Security Force Wields Power,” Geneva 
Times, December 26, 1 974, p. 1 9 <db42> . 

204 Mostly they focused: Background information on typical telephone company security agent concerns from Wayne 
Perrin, author interview, 2008. 

205 “On several occasions”: FBI file 87-HQ-1 21 1 89, serial 3, April 13,1 972, p. 2 <db883> . 

206 more innocent days: More innocent up to a point. Access to California DMV records was restricted in 1989 when the 
actress Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered “after the prime suspect in the case obtained her home address from DMV 
records.” See “In Killing’s Aftermath, State Limits Access to Driver’s Data,” Sacramento Bee, August 27, 1 989, p. A4. 

207 anonymous telephone company employee: Bill Acker and Ray Oklahoma, author interview, 2008. 

207 Due to a bug: The blocking of telephone calls to ten-digit telephone numbers that had a 0 or 1 in the fourth digit was 
called “D-digit blocking,” a feature that made it impossible for ordinary telephone subscribers to call numbers like 914- 
052-1 1 1 1 . A similar safeguard called “E-digit blocking” blocked calls with 0 or 1 in the fifth digit of a ten-digit telephone 
number, shooting down calls to numbers like 914-415-1212. But D- and E-digit blocking sometimes failed or wasn't 
implemented properly, meaning that in some places such calls were possible. 

208 “numerous multi-frequency signals” and following description: FBI file 87-HQ-1 21 1 89, serial 3, May 10,1 972, p. 27 
<db883> . 

208 “overseas sender points”: Overseas phone calls used to have to be routed through special switching facilities called 
overseas senders, which could be done with a blue box. For more on phone phreak international dialing techniques see m/extra/overseas . 

208 “not guilty”: FBI file 87-HQ-1 21 1 89, serial 8, July 23, 1 972, p. 2 <db883> . 

209 “contemporary folk hero”: Rick Carroll, “Captain Crunch’s Story,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 1 6, 1 972 <db88> . 

209 big newswires: See, for example, AP, “Electronic Rigging Charged to Call Long Distance Free,” Bakersfield 
Californian, May 5, 1972, p. 4; UPI, “Costly Whistle,” The Sun (Lowell, MA), November 30, 1 972, p. 1 . 

209 “Regulating the Phone Company in Your Home”: R. Oklahoma, “Regulating the Phone Company in Your Home,” 
Ramparts, vol. 10, no. 12, June 1972, p. 55 <db431 > . 

209 circulation 100,000: Peter Collier, quoted in Pam Black, “Ramparts,” Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management, 
April 1,2004. 

209 “It expressed”: Ibid. 

209 “heavy, shiny stock”: Ibid. 

210 “plans or instructions”: California Penal Code Section 502.7(b)(2). The specific wording made a criminal of anyone 
who “sells, gives, or otherwise transfers to another or offers, or advertises plans or instructions for [making a toll fraud 
device] with knowledge or reason to believe that they may be used to make [such a device].” For information on the 1 965 
amendments that added the “plans or instructions” clause to the law, see “Bill Seeks Tough Penalties for Phone Call 
Chislers,” Fresno Bee, April 21 , 1 965, p. 1 2A. 

210 “Telephone company attorneys”: “How the Phone Company Interrupted Our Service,” Ramparts, July 1972, pp. 10- 
11 <db271 > . 

211 “In the past ten years”: Ibid. 

21 1 “we were willing”: Ibid. Ramparts drew the line at its subscriber list, refusing to hand that over. 

211 some ninety thousand: “Magazine to Call 90,000 Copies Back,” Los Angeles Times, May 19, 1972, p. A23 <db34> . 

211 almost $60,000: “A Ramparts Issue Halted in Dispute; Magazine Withdrawn After Protest by Phone Concern,” New 
York Times, May 22, 1 972, p. 8 <db1 028> . 

21 1 “Within a week”: “How the Phone Company Interrupted Our Service.” 

21 2 monitoring the phone phreak conferences: FBI files 87-HQ-1 21 042, serial 2, page B, May 1 , 1 972 <db856> : see also 
FBI file 87-OK-1 7023 <db856> . 

21 2 “I know it looks easy”: “A Toll Thief’s Tale,” Konowa Leader, September 1 4, 1 972 <db272> . 

21 3 “Celebration of Change”: YIPL, no. 11, June-July 1 972, p. 1 . 

21 3 “As some of you might know”: Ibid., p. 4. 

21 4 An informant, bench warrant: FBI file 87-HQ-1 21 1 89, serial 6, July 1 0, 1 972 <db883> . 

21 4 phone phreak convention had been postponed: The phone phreak convention’s postponement appears to have been 
the result of legal concerns. According to Ramparts magazine, the convention was “postponed and moved to New York 

where, Yippies said, the laws against phreaking are ‘full of loopholes.’” The Village Voice reported, “At Abbie Hoffman’s 
invitation he [Draper] flew to Miami to head a phone freak convention, panicked, and flew right out again.” See Robert 
Sherman, “Phone Phreak-Out in Phun City,” Ramparts, vol. 11, no. 4, October 1972, p. 12 <db1 75>. and Maureen Orth, 
“Sore Losers: Mayor Daley, Meet Captain Crunch,” Village Voice, July 20, 1972, p. 18. 

21 4 “a tape-recorder and a brown valise”: FBI file 87-HQ-1 21189, serial 8, July 28, 1 972, p. 8 <db883> . 

214-215 basement ballroom of the Hotel Diplomat (and following description): Sherman, “Phone Phreak-Out in Phun 

21 5 spy from New York Telephone: FBI file 87-HQ-1 21 1 89, serial 9, September 1 8, 1 972, p. 1 0 <db883> . For more on the 
Hotel Diplomat, see “The Life and Times of the Hotel Diplomat, 1911-1994,” at 
htto://thisaintthesummeroflove. . 

215 Over the course of three days: AT&T memorandum from Dennis Mollura to Bill Mullane, September 28, 1972 
<db651 > . 

215 “Cheat Ma Bell!”: Don Schroeder, “Beating the Rip-Off Set,” Bell System News Features, January 1973 <db653> . An 
article based on this news release appeared as “Toll Fraud: Beating the Rip-Off Set,” Bell Telephone Magazine, 
November-December 1 972 <db41 0> . 

216 “more than $20 million”: The $20 million figure is likely inclusive of credit card fraud and does not reflect just electronic 
(blue box, black box) toll fraud. 

21 6 fifty-seven electronic toll fraud arrests: “Toll Fraud,” AT&T internal memorandum, May 1 8, 1 977 <db570> . 

216 failed miserably: “Capt. Crunch Defense Fund Fails,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 12, 1972, p. 8 <db89> . 

216 “Don’t think that didn’t give us pause”: Rick Carroll, “They Got His Number,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 

1 972. p. 2 <db90> . 

216 “recollection had been refreshed”: See, for example, FBI file 87-HQ-1 21 1 89, serial 12, November 17, 1972, p. 5 
<db883> . 

21 6 “Draper didn’t look very legendary”: Carroll, “They got his number.” 

217 “refrain from illegal use” and description of plea deal: Judgment, United States v. John Thomas Draper , United 
States District Court, Northern District of California, No. CR-72-973 RFP (SJ), November 29, 1 972 <db1 029> . 

217 “Your electronic gymnastics”: Carroll, “They Got His Number.” 

Chapter 15: Pranks 

21 8 “You know how some articles”: Steve Wozniak with Gina Smith, iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon (New York: W. W. 
Norton & Company, 2006), p. 93. 

218 “most amazing thing”: The Secret History of Hacking, Channel 4 Television, July 22, 2001. Although produced for 
British television, this program was seen in the United States on the Discovery Channel with the title History of Hacking. 

218 “described a whole web of people”: Wozniak, iWoz, p. 94. 

218 “outsmarting phone companies”: Secret History of Hacking. 

218 “I kept reading it”: Wozniak, iWoz, p. 94. 

21 8 “I could tell that”: Ibid., p. 95. 

21 8 “The idea of the Blue Box”: Ibid., p. 97. 

219 “I couldn’t believe”: Ibid., p. 96. 

21 9 “I froze and grabbed Steve”: Ibid., p. 99. 

21 9 “It’s real. Holy shit, it’s real”: Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), p. 28. 

219-220 “I started posting articles”: Wozniak, iWoz, p. 100. 

220 vary with temperature: The phone phreak Jim Roth, a gifted analog circuit designer, built analog blue boxes that 
cleverly avoided the temperature variation problem. The values of some of the components in his design increased with 
temperature while others decreased, and the variations canceled each other out. The result, several phone phreaks told 
me, was that you could tune one of his blue boxes at room temperature and then put it in a freezer for an hour and it 
would still work perfectly. Roth later received an accolade of sorts from New York Telephone security agent Thomas J. 
Duffy, who told the FBI that Roth built “excellent quality blue boxes.” See FBI file 139-SF-188, serial 179, February 25, 
1 976, p. 2. 

221 By early 1972: Steve Wozniak, author interview, 2008. Isaacson, in Steve Jobs (p. 28), states that Wozniak had the 
digital box “built before Thanksgiving,” but Wozniak, in my 2008 interview with him, says it wasn't until early 1 972. 

221 clever trick ... to keep the power consumption down, “I swear to this day”: Wozniak, iWoz, p. 102. For electrical 
engineers reading this book, Wozniak described his low-power design trick in a 2008 email as follows: “I ran the TTL 
inputs through the diode matrix to the number buttons. I ran the common of this number button pad into a Darlington, 
which grounded the circuit. I used a couple more diodes to drop a 9v battery the right amount for the TTL to work. Low 
power TTL worked as well. Even the CMOS version worked. The TTL inputs can be thought of as supplying a small 
amount of positive current, acting as tiny outputs. This current triggered the Darlington to ground the chips. I’m still a bit 
amazed how it worked but it worked extremely well and I don’t think I came up with anything as off the wall clever again.” 
It is worth noting that Wozniak may not have been the first phone phreak to build a digital blue box; Brough Turner recalls 
building a digital blue box shortly after graduating from MIT in 1971. Turner’s design was similar to Wozniak’s, minus the 
clever low-power design trick. 

221 “Berkeley Blue”, “Oaf Tobar”: Isaacson, Steve Jobs, p. 29. Some reports on the Internet say the pair went by the 
names “Hans” and “Gribble,” but Wozniak does not remember this. 

221 “I would have died”: Wozniak, iWoz, p. 103. 

221 “Captain Crunch comes to our door”: Ibid., p. 1 05. 

221 “He turns out to be”: Ibid., p. 1 06. 

222 “All of a sudden”: Ibid., p. 1 08. 

222 “A guy named Moog”: Ibid., pp. 1 09-1 1 . 

222 “sell it for $170 or so”: Wozniak, author interview, 2008. 

223 sales technique was inspired: Wozniak, iWoz, p. 1 1 6. 

223 Many of these wound up in the hands: Adam Schoolsky, author interview, 201 1 ; see below for related FBI files. 

223 “Sales went on through the summer”, “low paid salary”: Wozniak, author interview, 2008. 

223 thirty or forty boxes, more like a hundred: Ibid.; Isaacson, Steve Jobs, p. 29. 

224 “It’s kind of strange”: Wozniak, author interview, 2008. 

224 disassembled and analyzed: By the mid-1970s blue box analysis requests were common enough that the FBI 
Laboratory created a “Blue Box Work Sheet Guide" that prompted its lab technicians to gather the relevant information 
when inspecting a blue box. Its categories included physical description (keyboard format, size and type, coupling 
method, power supply), frequency measurements (for digits 0-9, KP, ST, and 2,600 Hz), interior circuitry arrangement and 
description, and results of a test call using the blue box. 

224 Woz’s little bit of paper: FBI files 87-HQ-130192, 1973; 87-HQ-1 33306, 1974; and 87-LA-40513, serial 55, February 
12, 1975. In particular, an unnumbered serial of file 87-HQ-130192 from 1975 discusses several blue boxes that 
contained Wozniak’s note, and the 87-LA-4051 3 serial discusses one of the blue boxes discovered at Bernard Cornfeld’s 

mansion that also contained Wozniak’s note; see <db1030> . 

224 “The dozen or so students”: Wozniak, iWoz, p. 64. 

225 “[l]n this heavy accent” and description of Vatican prank: Ibid., p. 1 1 5. 

225 Los Angeles Times: “Santa Barbara Is Still OK; A-Blast Report Just Hoax,” Los Angeles Times, November 11,1 974, p. 
A3 <db41 > . 

226 “nuclear explosion,” “continued throughout the day”: Ibid. 

227 Another place that simultaneous seizure: This situation was called “glare.” To make this hack work, a phone phreak 
had to send 2,600 Hz down the line and then listen until he heard the remote end stop sending its 2,600 Hz. At that point, 
he had to momentarily stop sending 2,600 Hz, simulating the wink that told the remote end to send the digits of the 

number to be dialed. See AT&T, Notes on Distance Dialing, 1968, section 5, p. 14 <db1001> . 

227-228 “We would sit there”: Mark Bernay, author interview, 201 1 . 

228 “We didn’t even know,” “It’s not something”: Wayne Perrin, notes and author interview, 2008. 

228 “all sorts of shortages these days” and subsequent description: Andrew H. Malcolm, “The Shortage’ of Bathroom 

Tissue: A Classic Study in Rumor,” New York Times, February 3, 1 974 <db1 031 > . The perception of a shortage was due 
to a confluence of factors, not just Carson’s joke. In particular, a congressman had issued a press release a few weeks 
earlier stating that the United States might soon face a serious shortage of toilet paper and that rationing might be 
necessary. It concluded: “A toilet paper shortage is no laughing matter. It is a problem that will touch every American.” 

228 “Crunch’s prank began” and subsequent description: John Draper, author interview, 2008, and; a similar version of this story is told in Steve Long, “Captain Crunch: 
Super Phone Phreak,” High Times, June 1977, p. 51 <db923> . It is hard to know if Draper and his friend did actually 
reach President Nixon; some of the details line up but some do not. The 800 number mentioned did indeed go to the 
White House, though it was not in fact the “CIA crisis line” but rather a toll-free telephone number used by White House 
staff on travel; see FBI file 1 39-HQ-0-2098, May 20, 1977 <db585> . Draper claims that he discovered the code name 
“Olympus” by using a verification circuit to eavesdrop on this line. This was technically possible in a few areas of the 
country (see chapter 18), but no other phone phreak I have spoken to recalls being able to do such a thing in the 
Washington, D.C., area. Finally, Nixon's Secret Service code name was “Searchlight,” not “Olympus”; see “Top 1 0 Secret 

Service Code Names,” Time Specials, at 

http://www.time.eom/time/soecials/packaaes/article/0.28804.1 860482 1 860481 1 860422.00.html . 

Chapter 16: The Story of a War 

230 “This is the story of a war”: Jim Russell, “The Telephone Company You’re Dialing Has Been Temporarily 

Disconnected,” a one-hour feature from the National Public Radio program Options, January 30, 1973. In a November 
1 6, 2007, email Jim Russell recalled that “AT&T tried to stop its distribution by threatening stations all over the country.” 
230 peace talks: Bernard Gwertzman, “Thuy Rejects Peace Talks While U.S. Raids Continue,” New York Times, December 
24, 1972, p. NJ35. 

230 “MF Boogie”: Kim Lingo, author interview, 2012. Lingo says “MF Boogie” was composed on a Wurlitzer electronic 
piano that doubled as his blue box. A recording is available at .zip . 

232 first proposals . . . transistor-based telephone switching: Joel, Switching Technology, pp. 203-4. 

233 the transistor itself would not be used: Bell Laboratories never used the transistor (more accurately, the pnpn diode) 
as the actual switching element in any production telephone switching system. One of the main problems with using 
semiconductors for switching telephone lines was their inability to handle the relatively high-voltage ringing signal used 
in the telephone network. See ibid., pp. 203-4 and pp. 243-45. 

233 “struck by the similarity”: Ibid., pp. 225-27. 

234 world’s first electronic: Bell Telephone Laboratories, The Electronic Switching System: Trial Installation, Morris, 
Illinois; General Description, 1 960, at . 

234 five thousand times slower: Ibid., p. 270 (“cycle time is about 3 microseconds”). 

235 flying spot store: Ibid. 

236 “traumatic experience”: Brooks, Telephone , p. 279. 

236 retained the basic concepts: Bell Telephone Laboratories, Bell Laboratories Record , vol. 49, no., 65, June 1 965. 

236 four thousand man years, $500 million: Brooks, Telephone , pp. 278-79. 

236 “Absent competition”: Sheldon Hochheiser, “Bell Labs: Research, Development, and Innovation in a Monopoly” 
(presentation given at Reed College), December 201 1 <db1044> . 

236 “trample it to death”: Brooks, Telephone, p.279. 

237 more than 132 of the 4As: Joel, Switching Technology, p. 321 . 

237 physically smaller (and other features): Robert J. Chapuis and Amos E. Joel Jr., One Hundred Years of Telephone 
Switching, Volume 2: Electronics, Computers, and Telephone Switching (Amsterdam: los Press, 2003), pp. 154-60. 

237 rendered black boxes obsolete, eleven seconds: Bill Acker, author interview, 2011. A later version of No. 1 ESS 
software, introduced around 1 980, added additional anti-blue box features: after seeing a wink from a remote trunk while 
a call was in progress, the No. 1 would attach an MF digit detector to the line to catch any subsequent digits sent by a 
blue box. 

238 red box: YIPL, no. 16, February 1973. In fact the term red box had been around for at least six months prior to this 
introduction; it was mentioned, if not described in detail, at the 1972 phone phreak convention. 

239 modified their red boxes: Through an odd coincidence having to do with ratios of the various tones involved, a Radio 
Shack touch-tone dialer could easily be turned into a red box simply by swapping out a single inexpensive component, 
the crystal oscillator; see . 

240 the month after that, it would be gone: Evan Doorbell, author interview, 201 2. 

240 “No fancy excuses”: TAP, no. 21 , August-September 1 973, p. 1 . 

241 “the legal department of [New York Telephone]”: FBI file 1 00-NY-1 79649, serial 13, February 22, 1 974 <db374> . 

241 Detroit underground newspaper: “Fifth Estate Charged with Fraud,” Fifth Estate, September 26, 1974, p. 2 <db553> . 
The case eventually went to trial and ended about a year later in a hung jury. 

241 sued by Pacific Telephone: The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, Plaintiff, vs. Jack Kranyak, doing 
business as Teletronics Company of America; et al, defendants, Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, No. 
NWC45558, July 14, 1975 <db336> . Pacific Telephone seemed to be particularly litigious that summer. It also sued 
Wayne Green, the publisher of the ham radio magazine 73, for printing a technical overview of the telephone system that 
included blue box plans. See Myrna Oliver, “PTT Sues over Story on Flow to Duck Call Fees,” Los Angeles Times, June 
1 0, 1 975, p. B3 <db52>, and Spenser Whipple Jr., “Inside Ma Bell,” 73 Magazine, June 1 975, p. 67 <db318> . 

241 some eight thousand people: Southwestern Bell memorandum/Q&A backgrounder titled “Fraud,” undated but circa 

242 “Dear Telephone User”: “Dear Telephone User” letter from Pacific Telephone and Telegraph, mailed May 28, 1 976. In 
the original, the last three paragraphs of the letter were all in capital letters; see spec2.ipg . 

242 One recipient of this missive: Radio Electronics, 1 976. 

242 “serious national problem,” “nationwide telephone fraud”: “Free-Phone Racket Inside Post Office," Sunday Times 
(London), January 21 , 1 973, p. 1 . 

243 “men of intellectual stature”: “Phone Fiddle by Bleep Box,” Daily Mirror, October 4, 1 973. 

243 charges went back to 1968: “Nineteen Accused of Dial-the-World Phone Fiddle,” Daily Telegraph, October 4, 1 973. 

243 exactly three went to live human beings: Robert Hill, “Days at the Old Bailey,” Interface (the house journal of 
Cambridge Consultants Ltd.), vol. 8, no. 1 , April 1 974, p. 1 0 <db341> . Hill was one of the Old Bailey 1 9; partway through 
the trial, after Hill gave his testimony, the prosecution moved to drop the charges against him. In his recollection of the trial 
he wrote: “The telephone system is the largest machine in the world, extending as it does over the whole surface of the 
earth. It is so easy to gain access to it — just pick up a telephone — and having done that, you can then explore ways of 
finding your way around the world. Some people are interested in the gadgetry of the system; some in gadgetry they can 
build to affect the system. Some study the system as geographers, some as computer programmers.” Hill passed away in 
1 974 at age twenty-four. 

243 “Your trial is now over”: “Eight Not Guilty of Phone Fraud,” Daily Telegraph, November 14, 1973. Interestingly, one of 
the Old Bailey 19, Duncan Campbell, had previously been arrested and fined 200 pounds (plus 200 pounds for court 
costs) in April 1 972 for using a blue box to call “Moscow, Melbourne, Washington, and Los Angeles.” See Kenelm Jenour, 
“The Man Who Dialed the World,” Daily Mirror, April 15, 1972. 

243 rock star Ike Turner: AP, “Ike Turner Arrested,” St. Joseph News Press, March 27, 1 974, p. 5A. Turner and two of the 

individuals arrested with him were later acquitted; one was convicted. See “Sorry, Wrong Voiceprint,” Detroit Free News, 
August 8, 1974 <db464> ; “came from Wozniak and Jobs”: see Michael Moritz, The Little Kingdom: The Private Story of 
Apple Computer (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1 984), p. 78. 

243-244 “just missed the shooting of a Playboy center spread”: Ted Thackery Jr. and Ronald L. Soble, “FBI Raids 
Financier Cornfeld’s Mansion, Arrests Aide, Seizes Illegal Phone Boxes,” Los Angeles Times, January 29, 1975, p. A3 
<db43>: “Cornfeld Charged with Phone Fraud,” Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1975, p. B32 <db51 > : Diana B. Plenriques, 
“Bernard Cornfeld, 67, Dies; Led Flamboyant Mutual Fund,” New York Times, March 2, 1995. There really was a Playboy 
photo shoot at Cornfeld's mansion the day the FBI swooped down, by the way; see FBI file 87-LA-40513, serial 29, 
January 30, 1 975 <db885> . 

244 “He’s got the whole world in his hands”: FBI file 87-LA-4051 3, serial 55, February 1 2, 1 975 <db885> . 

244 Lainie Kazan: Sanford L. Jacobs, “Blue Boxes Spread from Phone Phreaks to the Well-Heeled,” Wall Street Journal, 
January 29, 1 976, p. 1 <db53> . 

244 Woz and Jobs: Adam Schoolsky, author interview, 201 1 . 

244 Robert Cummings: Jacobs, “Blue Boxes Spread.” 

244 high-voltage electricity: David Condon and John Gilbert, author interviews, 2009. Called “juicing” or “nerping,” the 
high-voltage technique involved sending a 1 1 0-volt AC signal (preferably 80 Hz, but 60 Hz would do) into the telephone 
line. Though no one is sure exactly how it worked, it had the effect of causing the local central office to reset a call much in 
the same way as whistling 2,600 Hz would. The benefit was that it could work even on trunk lines that did not use 2,600 
Hz signaling, such as a T carrier. For more details, listen to Evan Doorbell’s “A HiFi 91 4 Routing Tape, Part 1 ” (December 

1 975), at . 

245 Colby Street house, “kiss of death”: Condon, author interview, 2009. Additional details provided by John Gilbert and 
other members of the Colby Street gang. 

245 “They explicitly excluded me”: Acker author interviews, 2008 and 2011. 

246 The more people who knew: In the physical world economists call this the tragedy of the commons. The term describes 
situations in which a natural resource (e.g., fish in the sea, or trees, or grazing land) is overused because it does not 
belong to any one individual and, as a result of such overuse, disappears. I think of the electronic security equivalent as a 
sort of “tragedy of the informational commons.” A version of this problem also appears in code breaking (if you break your 
enemy’s codes and then do something with the information you obtain, your enemy is likely to figure out that you’ve 
broken his codes and will change them, denying you further intelligence) and is explored in Neal Stephenson’s book 

Cryptonomicon (2002). See Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science, December 1968, p. 1243, at 
http://www.sciencemaa.Org/content/1 62/3859/1 243.full.pdf . 

246 One such phreak in New York: Author interview with a New York-area phone phreak who prefers to remain 
anonymous, 2012. Two of the books in question were the Distance Dialing Reference Guide and the Traffic Routing 
Guide, both of which described AT&T’s network routing in excruciating detail. 

Chapter 17: A Little Bit Stupid 

249 entered a telephone booth: Ken Hopper notes and author interview, 2006. 

250 had been around since the early 1900s: Joel, Switching Technology, pp. 45-48. See also J. Atkins, K. A. Raschke, 
and D. L. Woody, “Traffic Service Position System No. 1 : Busy Line Verification Feature,” Bell System Technical Journal, 
vol. 59, no. 8, October 1 980, pp. 1 397-41 6. 

250 verification circuits in some places could be reached: Bill Acker and Ray Oklahoma, author interviews, 2008. An 
internal AT&T memo acknowledges that blue box access to verification was possible prior to 1971 in Miami: “[We] caught 
this in Miami when they cut over their TSPS [a relatively new switchboard system used by operators]. They made a vacant 
area code available to TSPS operators for verification. [We] pointed out at the time that anything available via unused 
area code was available to blue box users and would compromise verification.” See C. J. Schulz, “Appraisal of ‘Secrets of 
the Little Blue Box’ Article in the October 1971 Esquire Magazine,” Bell Laboratories memorandum, September 17, 1971 
<db397> . AT&T claimed that blue box verification access in San Francisco was due to a misconfiguration of its switching 

251 Eder was a burly, forty-five-year-old: Chic Eder’s real name was Phillip Norman Ader. Description of Eder from author 
interview of John Draper, 2008, and from Albert Goldman, “What Will Happen When Middle-Class America Gets the 
Straight Dope?” New York Magazine, August 25, 1 975, p. 28. 

252 “Dear Agent in Charge”: FBI file 1 00-LA-82471 , serial 22, August 28, 1973 <db963> . The FBI began evaluating Eder 
as a potential informant and seems to have accepted his offer sometime in 1 974. 

252-253 first inkling (and subsequent description): FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 1 , June 24, 1 975 <db899> . 

253 “San Francisco is not serviced”: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 8, June 27, 1 975 <db899> . 

254 “This is to inform”: FBI file 1 39-FIQ-4991 , serial 6, July 2, 1 976 <db367> . This page of Draper's file was actually stored 
in the “Special File Room,” separated from the rest of his file. Curious about the redacted sentence? So am I. Even thirty- 
five years later the FBI refuses to reveal it, withholding it on grounds of national security. 

254 got it all on tape: FBI file 1 39-FIQ-4991 , serial 30, July 1 5, 1 975 and bulky enclosure E30. Eder’s tape of the phone call 
was obtained under FOIA and you can listen to it at http://explodingthephone .com/extra/edertape. 

255 Walter Schmidt: Schmidt later received a personal commendation letter from FBI director Clarence M. Kelley for 
“exceptional assistance ... to our Los Angeles Office in the investigation of an Interception of Communications case and 
most significantly for his efforts which facilitated the handling of a very sensitive situation.” FBI file 1 39-HQ-4991 , serial 29, 

July 31, 1975 <db367> . 

256 “valuable service,” “outstanding”: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 31 , July 21 , 1 975 <db899> . Alas, FBI documents do not 
reveal how much Eder was paid. 

256 “capability of monitoring calls”: Ibid, and FBI file 1 39-HQ-4991 (serial number obscured), July 21 , 1 975 <db367> . 

256 “not selling information,” “does not know how widespread”: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 38, July 25, 1 975 <db899> . 

258 “extremely cautious in use of the telephone” and preceding description: FBI file 1 39-FIQ-4991 , serial 26, July 22, 

1 975 <db367> . 

258 “Dear Mr. deButts”: Ken Flopper notes and author interview, 2006. See also FBI file 139-FIQ-4991 , serial 26, July 22, 
1 975, and serial 27, July 24, 1 975 <db367> . 

258 “It is pointed out”: FBI file 1 39-HQ-4991 , serial 25, July 24, 1 975 <db367> . 

258 “ho-hum”: FBI file 1 39-HQ-4991 , serial 35, August 1,1975 <db367> . 

259 “undoubtedly be sympathetic”: FBI file 1 39-HQ-4991 , serial 33 (serial number obscured), July 29, 1 975 <db367> . 

259 small blizzard of memos: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 43, July 30, 1 975 <db899> . 

259 “most valuable,” “penetrate”: FBI file 139-SF-188, serials 64 and 65, 1 39-FHQ-4991 , serial 31 <db899> . 

260 “Departmental Attorney Kline”: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 75, September 30, 1 975 <db899> . 

260 answer was no (and subsequent descriptions): FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serials 76-82, October 2-1 5, 1 975 <db899> . 

260 “For information of receiving”: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 85, November 1 7, 1 975 <db899> . 

Chapter 18: Snitch 

Much of the information regarding Wayne Perrin's investigation of Paul Sheridan comes from author interviews conducted 

with Perrin in 2008 and Perrin’s case notes from the time. 

266 “related numerous items”: Wayne Perrin, author interview and case notes, 2008. 

266 “early twenties, five-foot-eleven”: Ibid. 

267 “Mr. Norden, often times”: Ibid. 

268 could get President Ford on the line (and preceding description): Perrin, author interview, 2008; FBI file 139-LA-430, 
serial 1 , December 5, 1 975. 

268 “got right to the second floor of the White House”: Perrin’s recollection may be slightly off, since the second floor of 
the White House is the residential area, but the 800 number in Sheridan’s possession (also making the rounds of other 
phone phreaks at that time) definitely did go to the White House. 

268 AUTOVON: Definitive historical and technical information on autovon is difficult to come by. The most authoritative 
source is Records Group 371 (Records of the Defense Communications Agency), National Archives and Records 
Administration, College Park, Maryland. 

270 to be used only by the President: autovon Telephone Directory, as quoted in Telecom Digest email list, June 19, 
1 992, at http://massis.lcs. instructions . 

272 Bob Jacobs: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 1 08, December 23, 1 975 <db899> . 

273 guard banding: Guard banding seems to have been discovered sometime between 1 971 and 1 972. John Draper says 
he invented it, but Bill Acker says this credit belongs to New York phone phreak Jim Roth. It is interesting to note that the 
TAP newsletter did not print an article about it until 1979, which gives some indication of the informational time lag 
between the more sophisticated phreaks and the newsletter of the phone phreak masses. For more details on guard 
banding, see Napoleon Solo, “Guard Banding,” TAP , no. 56, March-April 1 979, p. 4. 

273 military’s Arctic communication system: United States Air Force, “The White Alice Network,” 1958, at . For a more personal recollection, see Bill Everly, “The White Alice 
Communications System,” at . 

273 Sheridan’s document explained: Author unknown, “autovon Access Info,” undated <db1 032> . 

274 The FBI’s biggest concern: Nelson Saxe, author interview, 2007. 

274 JCSAN/COPAN: JCSAN stood for “Joint Chiefs of Staff Alerting Network”; COPAN stood for ‘‘Command Post Alerting 

Network.” See W. H. Seckler, “Global Command Post Alerting Network,” Bell Laboratories Record , November 1964, pp. 

274 “mentally unstable,” “go off”: Saxe, author interview and notes, 2007. 

275 “We’re not about to go out to Los Angeles”: Saxe, author interview, 2007. 

Chapter 19: Crunched 

276 “Dear TAP”: “Letters from Readers,” TAP, no. 31, December 1975, p. 3. Yes, it was true, William F. Buckley Jr.’s 
conservative National Review had printed Captain Crunch’s telephone number, and Joe Engressia’s too, as part of an 
article covering the 1973 phone phreak convention. It was payback for YIPL’s having printed the telephone number of 
Nixon’s law firm. “Call them up the next time you get in at 4 a.m.,” the National Review article's author suggested. 
“Collect. Tell them they’re stupid.” See D. Keith Mano, “Sorry, Wrong Revolution,” National Review, October 26, 1 973, pp. 
1 1 83-85 <db1 84> . 

277 a dark vibe: Author interviews with several phone phreaks who, naturally, wish to remain anonymous, 2008. 

277 FBI-AT&T AUTOVON demo: Description of the autovon meetings comes from author interviews with Ken Hopper of 
Bell Laboratories, Nelson Saxe of AT&T Long Lines, Wayne Perrin of Pacific Telephone, FBI special agents who attended 
the meeting, and Ken Hopper’s notes. 

278 National Security Agency: FBI file 139-SF-188, serial 159 <db899>. and Ken Hopper, author interview, 2006. Fonger 
appears to have worked for the Communications Security side of the National Security Agency and wrote several memos, 
all classified secret, summarizing the Los Angeles autovon demos: “Phone Freaks Invade autovon,” January 30, 1976 
<db902> ; “Phone Freaks Invade Computer Networks,” February 6, 1976 <db903>; and “Phone Freaks Can Invade Your 
Privacy,” February 13, 1976 <db904> . The memos noted that an NSA investigation of the phone phreak claims was 
ongoing and that some of the techniques described were a “potentially lucrative source of intelligence.” 

278 Michael was a talented: Author interview with “Michael,” 2009. 

279 Hopper suspected it was Sheridan: Hopper, author interview, 2006. 

280 Just two miles from Stanford: Description of the 1900 block of Menalto and the story about Steve Wozniak from Roy 
Kaylor, author interview, 2008. Additional information from John Draper, author interview, 2008. 

280 “Computers are mostly used against people”: Levy, Hackers, p. 142. See also DigiBarn Computer Museum website, 
at . 

282 “It was decided”: FBI file 1 39-LA-430, serial 30, January 29, 1 976 <db372> . 

282 “agents met with Pacific Telephone” and subsequent description: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 1 27, January 27, 1 976 

<db899> . 

282 “Draperism”: Draper, author interview, 2008. 

283 Wall Street Journal: Sanford L. Jacobs, “Blue Boxes Spread from Phone Freaks to Well-Heeled,” Wall Street Journal, 
January 27, 1 976, p. 1 <db53>. included in 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 1 31 <db899> . 

283 “has no sources who are phone phreaks”: The draft teletype message described here is FBI file 139-SF-188, serial 
154, February 10, 1976 <db899> . The crossed-out text is on page 3. The teletype message as received at FBI 
headquarters is FBI file 1 39-HQ-4991 , serial 70, February 10,1 976 <db367> . 

284 agents in Los Angeles were not thrilled: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 161, February 1 8, 1 976 <db899> . 

284 send a phone phreak informant up to San Francisco: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 1 60, February 1 9, 1 976 <db899> . 

284 would drive up the next day: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 1 73, February 23, 1 976 <db899> . 

287 Draper maintains he was framed: A version of this story with slightly different details appears on Draper’s website, at . 

288 “On February 20,1976 at 5:23 pm”: FBI file 139-SF-1 88, serial 175, February 23, 1976 <db899> . 

288 “This will serve to inform you”: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 1 87, February 23, 1 976 <db899> . 

289 tape recording and detailed analysis: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, serial 1 83, February 24, 1 976 <db899> . 

289 service’s receptionist said: FBI file 139-SF-188, unnumbered serial (FD-302, numbered page 4*), May 4, 1976 

<db899> . 

289 friend in Pennsylvania: FBI file 1 39-SF-1 88, unnumbered serial (FD-302, numbered page 2), May 21,1 976 <db899> . 

290 FBI’s after-action report (and following paragraphs): FBI file 139-SF-188, unnumbered serial (FD-302, numbered 

page 29), April 2, 1976 <db899> . 

291-292 picked up by the newswires: AP, “Charges Filed Against Electronics Wizard,” Asbury Park Press, April 23, 1 976, 
p. A6 <db56> : AP, “Wizard Whistles Way into Trouble,” Sarasota Journal, April 23, 1976, p. 2D. 

292 “The first thing I thought”: Sidney Schaefer, author interview, 201 2. 

292 “Draper shall refrain”: United States v. John Thomas Draper, United States District Court for the Northern District of 
California, No. CR-72-973 RFP, Judgment and Order of Probation, November 29, 1 972 <db1 029> . 

292 Dawson met with Draper’s attorney (and following quotes): FBI file 1 39-PIQ-4991 , serial 90, April 22, 1 976 <db367> . 

292 with two provisos: FBI file 1 39-HQ-4991 , serial 92, June 8, 1 976 <db367> . 

293 “It was a big joke for him”: Author interview with anonymous source familiar with the debriefing, 2008. 

293 “sentenced to the custody”: FBI file 1 39-HQ-4991 , unnumbered serial (FD-204), September 7, 1 976 <db367> . 

293 On March 5, 1976: Wayne Perrin, notes and author interview, 2008. 

293 “In ninety percent”: Wayne Perrin, author interview, 2008. 

Chapter 20: Twilight 

296 On May 15, 1976: Victor K. McElheny, “New Phone Setup Started to Save Time and Circuits,” New York Times, May 15, 

1976. p.34 <db1 033> . 

297 Bell started experimenting: Joel, Switching Technology, pp. 430-38. 

297 eliminating blue box fraud: Ibid., p. 434. 

297 CAMA-C: Ibid., pp. 379 and 432. “As of January 1 , 1 977, 1 55 of these [CAMA-C] systems . . . were installed in crossbar 
tandems and No. 4A crossbar offices. Later the programs for these offices were modified to seek out potential troubles 
and suspected fraud situations based upon the detected supervisory signals.” 

298 Thomas Carter: Ellen Wojan, “Thomas F. Carter of Carter Electronics: Calling for Competition,” Inc., April 1 , 1 984. 

298 Carterfone: “In the Matter of Use of the Carterfone Device in Message Toll Telephone Service; In the Matter of Thomas 
F. Carter and Carter Electronics Corp., Dallas, Tex. (Complainants) v. American Telephone and Telegraph Co., 
Associated Bell System Companies, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, and General Telephone Company of the 
Southwest (Defendants),” Docket No. 1 6942; Docket No. 1 7073, Federal Communications Commission, 1 3 F.C.C. 2d 420 
(1 968), 1 3 Rad. Reg 2d (P &F) 597, FCC 68-661 , June 26, 1 968 (hereinafter, “Carterfone”). 

298 “[T]he phone companies were harassing my customers”: Wojan, “Thomas F. Carter.” 

298 FCC tariff 1 32: FCC tariff 1 32, April 1 6, 1 957. 

298 “The universal comment,” “I didn’t think it was fair”: Wojan, “Thomas F. Carter.” 

299 “unreasonable, unlawful, and unreasonably discriminatory”: “Carterfone.” 

299 cream skimming: Coll, The Deal of the Century, pp. 11-14. 

300 The very next day: “AT&T to Cut Off MCl's Connections,” New York Times, April 16, 1974 <db1 034> . 

300 AT&T, at regulatory gunpoint: “AT&T Ordered to Give Service to MCI, Others,” Wall Street Journal, April 24, 1974. In 
fact, AT&T appealed the FCC’s decision and lost; see “AT&T Loses Motion, Will Reconnect MCl’s Private-Line Services,” 
Wall Street Journal, May 3, 1 974. 

300 all for much less (and preceding description of Execunet): Philip Louis Cantelon, The History of MCI: 1968-1988, 
The Early Years (Dallas: Heritage Press, 1993). 

301 sued the Hare Krishnas: “Krishna Units Accused of ‘Pirate’ Telephone Calls,” Los Angeles Times, September 24, 

1 977, p. B6 <db982> . 

301 seeking to sever its manufacturing arm: Charles Zerner, “U.S. Sues to Force A.T.&T. to Drop Western Electric Co.,” 
New York Times, January 1 5, 1 949, p. 1 <db1 035> . 

301 reached an agreement: Anthony Lewis, “A.T.&.T. Settles Antitrust Case; Shares Patents,” New York Times, January 25, 
1 956, p. 1 <db1 036> . 

302 “The wounds from that 1956 scandal”: Coll, Deal of the Century, p. 59. 

302 On November 20, 1974: Peter T. Kilborn, “The Telephone Suit: Competitive Cold Water for the Mighty Bell System,” 
New York Times, November 24, 1974, p. 1 <db1 037> . 

302 “severed limbs”: Coll, Deal of the Century, p. 120. 

302 AT&T lawyers argued (and subsequent description): “Antitrust Immunity for AT&T Is Barred by High Court Ruling,” 
New York Times, November 29, 1977 <db1 038>: United States v. American Telephone and Telegraph, 427 F. Supp. 57 
(1976), United States District Court, District of Columbia, November 24, 1976. 

303 “Watergate is a gnat”: “A Phone Executive Assails Bell System in His Suicide Note,” New York Times , November 19, 
1974 <db1 039> ; J. Edward Hyde, The Phone Book: What the Phone Company Would Rather You Not Know 
(Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 1 976), pp. 98-1 1 2; “Phone Calls and Philandering,” Time, September 5, 1 977. 

304 Ashley was fired soon after (and surrounding description): Brooks, Telephone, p. 309; Kleinfield, The Biggest 
Company on Earth, pp. 267-69. 

304 “I had been looking at all the expenditures”: Louis J. Rose, author interview, 2006. 

304 The Texas scandal spread: Kleinfield, The Biggest Company on Earth, pp. 271-72. 

304 The telephone company soon found itself: Brooks, Telephone, p. 31 1 ; Kleinfield, The Biggest Company on Earth, p. 

305 “I think we’re going”: Bill Caming, author interview, 2007. 

306 “arranged for a city councilman” and surrounding description: Kleinfield, The Biggest Company on Earth, p. 274. 

306 thirteen female employees: Ibid., pp. 275-77; “Six Women Testify in Texas Phone Suit,” New York Times, August 28, 

1 977 <db1 040> ; AP, “Suit Against Southwestern Bell in 4th Week of Trial,” Times News (Hendersonville, NC), August 30, 
1977, p. 9. 

306 appeals court overturned: Kleinfield, The Biggest Company on Earth, p. 278; “$3 Million Award Is Overturned in a Suit 
Against Southwest Bell,” New York Times, November 30, 1 978 <db1 041 > . 

306 Supreme Court of Texas: Dixon v. Southwestern Bell, 607 S.W.2d 240 (1980), No. B-8208, Supreme Court of Texas, 
October 22, 1980 (Rehearing Denied November 19, 1980). The Texas Supreme Court did not so much uphold the 
appeals court ruling as simply decide that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case; Texas law granted its Supreme 
Court very limited jurisdiction regarding slander cases. 

307 Intel 8008: Roy Allan, A History of the Personal Computer: The People and the Technology (London, Ontario, Canada: 
Allan Publishing, 2001); S. P. Morse, B. W. Raveiel, S. Mazor, and W. B. Pohimian, “Intel Microprocessors — 8008 to 
8086,” IEEE Computer, vol. 13, no. 10, October 1980. 

307 “first truly usable microprocessor”: Lamont Wood, “Forgotten PC History: The True Origins of the Personal 
Computer,” Computerworld, August 8, 2008, at 

http://www.computerworld.eom/s/article/9111341/Forgotten PC history The true origins of the personal computer. 

307 “Project Breakthrough!”: Popular Electronics, January 1 975, cover and pp. 23ff. 

308 “The only word which could come to mind”: Levy, Hackers, p. 1 92. 

309 Wozniak would show off: Ibid., p. 250. 

309 “Jobs placed ads”: Ibid., p. 253. 

Chapter 21 : Nightfall 

311 “Well, let’s see”: Bill Acker, author interview, 2007. 

312 The new legal standard: See, for example, United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee v. Michael William Clegg, 
Defendant-Appellant, No. 74-2557, United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, 509 F.2d 605 (1 975), March 5, 1 975. 

312 Draper walked out of Lompoc: Peter Gorner and Michael Smith, “They Still Fear Captain Crunch,” San Francisco 
Chronicle, June 29, 1 977, p. 4 <db91 > . 

312 slopped pigs: John Draper, “Prisons Are the Universities of Crime,” at . 

313 PDP-6: Levy, Hackers, p. 95. 

31 3 “A WATS extender is used”: Stephen Wozniak, “An Apple for the Captain,” Infoworld, October 1 , 1 984, p. 57. 

313 Draper cracked: Ibid. 

313 disliked Draper: Moritz, Return to the Little Kingdom, p. 205. 

314 microcomputer laboratory: Bell Laboratories, “Evidence Examination Report: Pennsylvania State Police Incident No. 
N6-39474, Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania Case No. 23-50-E77,” December 1 4, 1 977 <db1 042> . 

31 4 “plenty of music, fun, and information”: John Draper, handwritten flyer titled “Capt'n Crunch Party,” 1 977 <db694> . 

314 party crashers (and surrounding description): Howard Smith and Leslie Harlib, “The Captain Is Crunched Again,” 
Village Voice, January 16, 1978 <db65> . 

314 watching Draper like a hawk (and subsequent description): Bell of Pennsylvania, “Case Summary of John Thomas 
Draper,” September 8, 1 978 <db687> . 

315 start of a lengthy nightmare (and subsequent description): Smith and Harlib, “The Captain Is Crunched Again.” 

Stories vary as to whether the red box was found on Draper’s person or in his car. 

315 At one point during the trial: Ken Hopper, author interview, 2006. 

31 6 sentenced to three to six months: Mike Joseph, ‘“Phone Phreak’ Jailed for 3 to 6 Months,” Pocono Record, August 1 9, 
1978, p. 17 <db71 > . 

316 “I just have a feeling”: K. C. Mason (UPI), “Highrise Joe Is a Whiz in Spite of Blindness,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 
4, 1 982, p. 8G. 

31 6 offered Engressia a job: Description of Engressia’s conversation with Leger from Joybubbles, author interview, 2006. 

317 “You wouldn’t believe the pressure”: Lloyd Leger, author interview, 2007. 

317 “I feel the Bell insignia”: “The Whistler and the Captain — Veterans of Phone ‘Fixing,’” New York Times, March 27, 
1 978, p. D3 <db69> . 

318 4ESS: Joel, Switching Technology, p. 294. 

318 “tendjsj to pass himself off as the victim”: Dr. Robert B. Blumberg, psychiatric evaluation of John T. Draper, August 
1 7, 1 978 (included in Draper’s 1 976 court records). 

318 “numerous paranoid delusions”: O'Neil S. Dillon, MD, psychiatric evaluation of John T. Draper, December 6, 1978 
(included in Draper’s 1 976 court records). 

319 “Is this not simple?”: Pete Carey, “Cap'n Crunch Programs His Way from Jail to Success,” Chicago Tribune, May 25, 
1 983, p. D1 <db966> . 

319 TAP: In 1979 the phone phreak newsletter changed its name again, this time from Technological American Party to 
Technological Assistance Program. Was this because they were becoming less political? Not so much, said Cheshire 
Catalyst in 2010. “It had more to do with the difficulty of opening up a bank account when you have the word ‘Party’ in 
your name.” 

319 Third Annual Phone Phreak Convention: YIPL ran phone phreak conventions in 1972 and 1973, but a dry spell 
followed until THC-79. 

31 9 “For several reasons, I have permanently retired”: John Draper, “Greetings” (open letter to THC-79 attendees), TAP, 
no. 59, September-October 1 979. 

320 “While intrepidly trekking”: Cheshire Catalyst, “The News Is In from the West, and It’s Beige,” TAP, no. 51 , July 1978, 

320 CBBS: Ward Christensen and Randy Suess, “Hobbyist Computerized Bulletin Board,” Byte, vol. 3, no. 1 1 , pp. 1 50-57. 

320 first phone phreak/hacker BBSes: Katie Hafner and John Markoff, Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer 
Frontier (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1 991 ), p. 44; see also a description of the 8BBS in Santa Clara, California, which 
ran from 1 980 to 1 982, at . 

321 “Enclosed for Bureau”: FBI file 1 1 7-HQ-2905, serial “X,” April 30, 1 979 <db374> . 

321 “nuclear yield”: FBI file 1 1 7-HQ-2905, serial 3, August 24, 1 979 <db374> . 

321 Judge Harold Greene: In an odd coincidence, in 1980 as part of a totally separate case, Judge Greene “ordered the 
FBI to stop destroying its surveillance files and to design a plan in which no files could be destroyed until historians and 
archivists could review them for historical value.” As it turns out, large chunks of this book are based on such FBI files, 
which might well have been destroyed were it not for Judge Greene's order. See William Yurcik, “Judge Harold H. 
Greene: A Pivotal Figure in Telecommunications Policy and His Legacy,” IEEE Global History 

Network, at httD:// /I d/Yurcik.pdf . p. 16, and John Anthony Scott, “The FBI Files: A 
Challenge for Historians,” Perspectives on History, March 1980, at .cfm . 

321 statistics are mind numbing: Yurcik, “Judge Harold H. Greene.” 

321 broken up into eight different companies: Coll, Deal of the Century; Kimberly Zarkin and Michael J. Zarkin, The 

Federal Communications Commission: Front Line in the Culture and Regulation Wars (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 


325 The town of Wawina: Bob Riddell, author interview, 201 2. 

325 108 historical telephones (and surrounding description): Gail Van Horn (AP), “Small Entrepreneur Owns 148 
Telephones,” Spokesman Review, October 3, 1 976, p. B3. 

325 “ask your mother to help you”: Telephone World website, “Sounds and Recordings from Wawina, MN,” at . 

325 no other place in the continental United States: Note the qualifier “continental.” The town of Livengood, Alaska, also 

had a 2,600 Hz-based telephone system, but it went away sometime in 2011. See “The Death of Livengood” on the 
Binary Revolution Forums website, at -the-death-of-livengood . 

326 several hours of goodbyes: You can listen to them at the Telephone World website, . 

326 “even callow youths”: Jake Locke, email to author, 201 1 . 

327 looked like he would be going to prison for ten years: “Bookmaking Sentence Against 3 Reimposed," Miami News, 
December 1 8, 1 969, p. 1 0A. 

327 “Gil Beckley would be distinctly more valuable”: “Crime: No. 1 1 Off the Boards,” Time, March 2, 1970. 

327 shot dead and stuffed into the trunk of a car: AP, “Fugitive Mike Thevis Back in Custody,” Spartanburg Herald, 
November 1 0, 1 978, p. B1 . 

327 Flamboyant mob attorney: Frank Murray, “Ben Cohen Cries ‘Mercy,’ Is Led Off to Jail,” Miami News, November 30, 
1 966; “Ben Cohen, Mr. Big Criminal Lawyer, Dies in Miami Beach of Cancer at 76,” Miami News, August 28, 1 979, p. 4A. 

328 612 was the area code: George Monaghan, “The Child in a Man,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune , September 19, 1991, p. 


328 Found a high-rise: Gene Collier, “There's Martin Luther King, There’s Gandhi . . . and There’s Fred Rogers,” Pittsburgh 
Post-Gazette, March 9, 2003. 

328 began calling himself Joybubbles: Andrew T. Huse, interview with Joybubbles, University of South Florida Oral History 
Program, August 23, 2004. Monaghan, in “The Child in a Man,” puts the year Engressia began calling himself Joybubbles 
as 1988. 

328 “We were on a retreat”: Jim Ragsdale, “One Name Says It All,” St. Paul Pioneer Press, November 27, 2005, p. A1 . 

328 “I’m a survivor”: Huse, interview with Joybubbles. 

329 legally changed his name: Ibid. 

329 “Nobody knows how much peace”: Collier, “There’s Martin Luther King.” 

329 selected it to be the word processor: John Markoff and Paul Freiberger, “Visit with Cap’n Software, Forthright Forth 
Enthusiast,” Infoworld, October 11,1 982, p. 31 . 

329 “wealthy executive”: Pete Carey, “Cap’n Crunch Programs His Way from Jail to Success,” Chicago Tribune, May 25, 
1 983, p. D1 . 

329 personal fortunes were crumbling: Alexander Besher, “The Crunching of America,” Infoworld, June 1 8, 1 984, p. 66. 

329 forging tickets to BART: Gary Richards, ‘“Captain Crunch’ Charged in Ticket Forgery,” San Jose Mercury News, 
January 9, 1 987, p. 1 B; “John Draper at AutoDesk,” DigiBarn Computer Museum interview with John Draper, May 2006, 
at . 

330 where-are-they-now newspaper article: Chris Rhodes, “The Twilight Years of Cap’n Crunch,” Wall Street Journal, 
January 13, 2007. 

330 TAP ceased publication: See . In 1989 another group not affiliated with the original TAP 
crew restarted the newsletter and printed issues 92 through 1 07. 

330 a new hacker/phone phreak publication: “AHOY!” 2600, January 1 984, p. 1 . 

330 area code “321 ”: “3-2-1 , Call Cape Canaveral,” New York Times , November 23, 1 999. 

331-332 wired telephone lines . . . had peaked: Trends in Telephone Service, Federal Communications Commission, 
September 2010, at public/attachmatch/DQC-301 823A1 .pdf . 

333 “It was the magic of the fact”: Santa Clara Valley Historical Association, interview with Steve Jobs from “Silicon Valley: 
A 1 00-Year Renaissance,” 1 998, at m/watch?v=HFURM8Q-oYI . 

334 MIT students proudly displayed: Russell Ryan, Zack Anderson, and Alessandro Chiesa, “Anatomy of a Subway Hack,” 
at 28/N30/subwav/Defcon Presentation.pdf : Michael McGraw-Herdeg and Marissa Vogt, “MBTA 
Sues Three Students to Stop Speech on Subway Vulnerabilities,” The Tech, August 25, 2008. 


Writing is often said to be a lonely endeavor. Yet as I look back over the five years I spent 
researching and writing this book, I am awed and humbled both by the number of people who 
have been involved and all the things they have contributed. People have shared their stories 

with me, given me documents and recordings and historical artifacts, made introductions on my 
behalf, answered my questions, processed my Freedom of Information Act requests, helped me 
with writing or editing or research, and encouraged me to keep at it. 

I am most grateful to those I interviewed or corresponded with to collect their stories; this 
book would not exist without them. Sadly, not everyone who shared something with me could 
be featured as a character or even quoted in this book. Regardless, every person I talked to 
contributed bits of context that I hope I have been able to mold into a collective and coherent 
history. I would like to thank the following: 

The phone phreaks, telephone enthusiasts, telecommunications experts, and their friends 
and relations: George A., Ralph Barclay, Jack Bariton, Fred Belton, Mark Bernay, Sid Bernay, 
Trudy Boardman, Ed Buckley, John-Elmer Canfield, Cheshire Catalyst, Colin Chambers, Bob 
Clements, David Condon, John Covert, Mark Cuccia, Al Diamond, Richard Dillman, Jed 
Donnelley, Evan Doorbell, John Draper, Ron “Ducks,” Stephen Dunne, Tom Edison, Esther 
Engressia, Toni Engressia, Jim Fettgather, Alan Fierstein, Don Froula, Al Gilbertson, Bob 
Gudgel, Grant Gysbers, Anita Harris, Max Flauser, Dennis Heinz, John Fligdon, Doug 
Flumphrey, Joybubbles, Roy Kaylor, Nagy Khattar, Francis Kriokorian, David Kulka, Robert 
LaFond, Tony Lauck, David Lewis, Kim Lingo, Robert Lipman,Jake Locke, Rudolph Loew, 
Lucky225, Greg MacPherson, Joe Maximetz, John McNamara, Chuck Meyer, Onnig Minasian, 
Stuart Nelson, Jay from New York, Stephen Owades, Jon D. Paul of the Crypto-Museum, Jerry 
Petrizze, Rick Plath, M. J. Poirier, Tom Politeo, Jim Prather, Larry Rachman, Jodd Readick, 
Bob Reite, Bob Riddell, “Rogtag,” Ed Ross, Jim Roth, John Sawyer, Adam Schoolsky, Robert 
Shaw, Bill Squire, Hoyt Stearns, David Tarnowski, Denny Teresi, John Treichler, Brough 
Turner, Rick Turner, Richard Weissberg, Steve Wozniak, Herb Yeates, and Norm Zimon. 

Former employees of the telephone companies and their associates, friends, and families: H. 
W. William (Bill) Caming of AT&T, Bob Ginnings of Hekimian Labs, Ken Hopper and Amos E. 
Joel Jr. of Bell Laboratories, Helmut Kaunzinger of Pacific Telephone, Rob Mang of New York 
Telephone, Bob McLuckie of BC Telephone, Wayne Perrin of Pacific Telephone, Nelson Saxe 
of AT&T Long Lines, Walter Schmidt (and his son and daughter-in-law, Bill and Julia) of 
General Telephone, Swede Sorensen of Pacific Telephone, Ed Turnley of Southern Bell and 
AT&T, and John Whitman and H. Richard Zapf of New York Telephone. 

Members of the law enforcement community: Jay Cochran, Bob Federspiel, Dennis Feine, 
Harold “Skip” Gladden, Bill Harward, Bud Heister, Dick Lytle, Edwin J. Sharp, Bill Snell, Ray 
Wannall, Warren Welsh, and Jack Wilgus, all formerly with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 
Bill Earle, a former Justice Department attorney, and Floy Dawson, a former assistant U.S. 

Members of the press: Wayne Green, Ron Kessler, Louis J. Rose, and Ron Rosenbaum. 

Much of the material in this book is based on documents released under the Freedom of 
Information Act (FOIA) and the civil servants responsible for handling this often thankless task 
deserve recognition. Since the Federal Bureau of Investigation was the agency that spent the 
most time investigating phone phreaks, it had the misfortune to receive the lion’s share of my 
FOIA requests, more than 350 in all. Its representatives bore up under this paper onslaught with 
professionalism and even the occasional bit of laughter. At the FBI I am indebted to Dottie 
Bailey, Kathleen Boyle, Craig Clevenger, Theresa Fowler, Kim Garver, Margaret Jackson, 
Moira Lattimore, Kara Lewis, Debbie Lopes, Candy McCulloh, Travis Mumaw, Patricia Nice, 
Becky Peterson, Tonia Robertson, Loren Shaver, David Sobonya, Mike Stevens, Lori 
Synnamon, Erin Uptigraph, and Marla Williamson — to say nothing of the many other members 
of the FBI Record/Information Dissemination Section whose names I don’t know and who toiled 
behind the scenes processing my requests. My thanks, too, go to the staff at the Department of 

Justice Office of Information Policy, who handled my several FOIA appeals. At the Department 
of Justice Criminal Division, Kathleen Segui was most helpful. At the National Security Agency, 
Pamela Phillips and Marianne Stupar and their nameless staff worked diligently on several of 
my requests, including one that took almost three years to complete. Other historical documents 
came from the National Archives and Records Administration, where I am particularly grateful 
to Steven Tilley and Jay Olin for slogging through box after box of records in search of old 
memos and files. 

At the AT&T Corporate Archives, George Kupczak and Bill Caughlin helped with my 
research requests and were kind enough to let me spend two days at their facility in New 
Jersey. Sellam Ismail of VintageTech was good enough to open his archives for me as well. 

Several people deserve special thanks. One is Bill Acker, a phone phreak and twenty-seven- 
year veteran of the Bell System who spent hundreds of hours on the phone with me, reliving 
stories, answering my questions, and patiently explaining bits of telephone network esoterica. 
Another is Ken Hopper, a former distinguished member of the technical staff at Bell 
Laboratories and the head of its Telephone Crime Lab; even though he was quite ill at the time, 
Ken and his wife, Barbara, let me invade their home and spent days with me reviewing 
documents, remembering cases, answering questions, and making introductions. Charlie Pyne 
hosted me at his home, answered numerous questions, and worked diligently to track down 
relevant FBI files and the Fine Arts 13 notebook. John Gilbert, Wayne Perrin, Alan Rubinstein, 
Steve Sawyer, and Ed Turnley all helped with thoughtful discussions and treasure troves of old 
documents and recordings. Former FBI assistant director Edwin J. Sharp educated me on the 
fight against organized crime in the 1960s and introduced me to numerous former FBI special 
agents, all while keeping my spirits up with well-timed emails of encouragement. Michael 
Ravnitzky, my Freedom of Information Act guru and an irrepressible researcher, helped craft 
FOIA requests and appeals, solved missing-person puzzles, decoded FBI files, and dug up 
amazing bits of relevant history on his own initiative. Mio Cohen imposed order on chaos by 
developing a filing system that allowed me to actually locate and use the thousands of 
documents and records I had amassed. Jordan Hayes, the best system administrator in the 
world, supported my requests for domain names and Web hosting with patience and humor. 
Jackie Cheong loaned me her quiet office so I could write; her husband, Curt Hardyck, denied 
me the office wifi password so that I actually would write. Jason Scott of offered 
invaluable insights, guidance, introductions, and feedback. Steven Gibb, the executor of 
Joybubbles’s estate, graciously provided access to Joybubbles’s (ne Joe Engressia’s) old 
tapes and documents. Sam Etler, Steph Kerman, and Mark Cuccia became my go-to resources 
for technical questions about the telephone network of the 1 960s and 70s. 

Andy Couturier of the Opening and Jane Brunette of provided invaluable 
help and coaching with my writing and the book’s organization. I was lucky enough to be part of 
several outstanding writing groups while working on this book; I would like to particularly thank 
Katrina Alcorn, Novella Carpenter, Jodi Halpern, Rachel Lehman-Haupt, Martha Snider, and 
Robin Bishop for their help. Mio Cohen, George Cook, John and Nancy Gilbert, Jake Locke, 
Charlie and Betsy Pyne, Mary Rowe, Steve Sawyer, and Jason Scott reviewed early drafts of 
the manuscript and provided thoughtful feedback. Jennifer Eyre White, Katie Hafner, Bobbie 
Pires, and Dan Shimizu read some of my earliest writing attempts and book proposals. 

Don Kennison’s careful copy editing of the manuscript prevented me from committing both 
atrocities of grammar and errors of fact, for which I am grateful; any errors that remain are, alas, 
my own. At Grove/Atlantic, Isobel Scott ably assisted in the production of the book. My editor, 
Jamison Stoltz, brought both enthusiasm and focus to the project. He blends a historian’s eye 
for detail with a writer’s love for words and an editor’s clarity of thought; his touch can be found 

on every page. 

My ultimate gratitude is to my wife, Rachael Rusting, whose belief in this project and love for 
me was unwavering. 

Thank you all. 


000-1 99 exchanges 65, 202-203, 352 
052 conference 203, £07, 212, 246, £Z8 
#1 ESS 236-238 

121 inward operator code 5, 73, 77, 31 1 
See also: inward operator 
1 27 verification code 249, 256 
1343: See laws. 1 8 USC 1 343 
21 1 long-distance access code 32, 49 

21 1 1 conference 162-166, 171. 173, 181. 202-203, 206. 246, 335, 378 

2,600 Hz 48, 52-57, 61, 73-76. 85, 93-94, 105. 123-124, 140-143. 154, 163-164, 166-167, 175. 219. 222, 227, 249, 
273, 297 

2600 magazine 330 
3,200 Hz 273 

331 exchange (Boston, MA) 65-66, 68, 72. 75 

#4A crossbar switch 46-47. 53, 55, 174-176. 202, 236-237, 269. 273. 318. 332 

4ESS switch 318 

#5 crossbar switch 120, 161 

502.7: See laws . 502.7 California Penal Code 

555-1212: See directory assistance 

61 1 repair service 263. 265-266 

73 magazine 388 

737 time recording 1 18, 121 

800 numbers 145-146, 153. 175, 202, 228-229, 249. 268, 313 
Acker, Bill 

052 conference 207 

1 972 visit by telephone company security 204-205, 207 

1976 investigation and arrest 311-312 

800 numbers 145-146 

Blindness 135, 1 64 

Childhood 135-137 

Credit card code 196-197 

David, B., meeting 1 65 

Directory assistance, dialing 137 

Discovery of blue boxing 137-143 

Draper, John, New York arrest 213-214 

Engressia, Joe 137, 161-162. 238 

Esquire article 169-174 

Isolation and meeting other phreaks 1 55-1 57. 1 60-161, 245-246 
Mountain Bell job 317-318, 321. 327 
Open sleeve lead conferences 202 

Secrecy vs. openness 245-246 
Social engineering 1 78-1 79 . 202 
Supervision on blue box calls 143-146 
Tandem stacking 1 75-1 77 
Verification 250 
Advertisements: See blue box 
AFL-CIO 190 
Albrecht, Bob 280 
Alex, George 248, 289 
Allen, Paul 309 
Altair 8800 computer 307-309 
Amateur radio: See ham radio 
American Speaking Telephone 21 
American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) 

Antitrust and breakup 27-28, 301-302. 321-322 

Competition 22, 26-27, 236. 298-301 

Culture, straightjacketed 190-192 

Discrimination 1 89-1 90 

Electronic toll fraud 91 

FCC investigations 189-190 

Formation and structure 22, 27-28 

Flush-a-Phone 1 58-1 59 

Rate increases 187-188 

Scandal 303-306 

Service failures 188-189 

See also: Bell. Alexander Graham: Bell Laboratories: Bell Telephone: Caming, H. W. William : DeButts. John : Western 
Electric: and the individual Bell operating companies 
Analog circuitry 219-221. 383 

Announcements, recorded: See recorded announcements 
Anonymity 149-150, 165-166, 218, 265, 320 
Antitrust 27-28. 301-302, 321-322 

Apple Computers / Apple I / Apple II 221, 281, 309-310. 312-316, 319, 329. 333. 335-336 

Area code 43, 47, 49, 55, 72, 137, 175-176. 228, 311. 347 

Arrests: See statistics, and names of individuals 

Art, telephonic: See joke lines 

Ashley-Gravitt scandal 303-306 

Atomic bomb plans 321 

Automatic Electric 25, 268 

Automation 25-26, 41-50. 167, 174. 188, 239, 250, 313, 334 
AUTOVON 267-275. 277-280. 293, 301 

Bagel, Johnny: See Schoolskv. Adam 
Baker, Russell 1 97 

Barclay, Ralph 51-63. 85-86. 123. 141, 199. 327, 333. 338 
Beating the system 215-216, 231 , 240 
Beckley, Gil 101, 106-107, 111. 327 
Beige box 320 

Bell, Al (YIPL founder): See Fierstein. Alan 

Bell, Alexander Graham 1 7-20 
Bell Laboratories 

Automated switching 41-50. 55. 167 
Barclay, Ralph 59-63 
Call waiting 172 
Computers 233-236, 306-307 
Electronic switching 233-238 
Esquire article 182-184 
Greenstar 91-95 
Part of AT&T 28 

Suitcase blue box 87, 355-356 
Telephone Crime Lab 1 82-1 84. 31 4-31 5 
Transistor 231-232, 306 
Wiretapping via verification 257 
Bell Laboratories Record 38, 72 
Bell of Pennsylvania 28, 82, 314-315. 322 

Bell System: See American Telephone and Telegraph: Bell, Alexander Graham : Bell Laboratories : Bell Telephone 
Company : Western Electric : and the individual Bell operating companies 
Bell System Practices 190-191 

Bell System Technical Journal 9-1 0. 13. 38. 51-57, 60, 72. 87. 1 68 
Bell Telephone Company 1 9-22. 26-27 
Berkeley Blue: See Wozniak, Steve 
Bernay, Al 166, 326, 328 
See also: Diamond. Al 
Bernay, Bob: See Bob Gudael 
Bernay, Mark 150, 154-155. 163, 166. 227-228, 328 
See also: Mark Bernay Society 
Bernay, Sid 1 54. 1 66 
Bill from New York: See Acker. Bill 

Billing system 43-44, 48, 55, 75-76. 91-93, 143-144. 149, 177, 194, 204. 297 

Black box 76, 85, 88-94, 102-104, 113-114. 127, 204. 209-210 . 215, 230, 237-238, 286. 305, 320 

Blindness 1J7, 135-136. 149. 164 

Blue box 

052 conference 202-203 
#1 ESS 237-238 
Acker, Bill 205-206, 31 1-312 
Advertisements 87-88 
Arrests, other 180 
AUTOVON 273-274. 278-279 
Barclay, Ralph 53-63 
Bookmaking 98, 1 03-1 1 5 
Celebrities 243-244 
Computerized 312-313 

Detection 91-97. 105, 115-116, 143-145. 287 
Digital 220-221, 383-384 

Draper, John 154, 180, 208, 214, £72, 282, 287-290. 309, 315 
Engressia, Joe 131-132 
Esquire article 170-173 
Gilbertson, Al 1 67-1 69 

Greenstar: See Detection 

Guard banding 273-274. 278-279 

Jobs, Steve 219-225 . 243-244. 333-334, 336 

Legality 85-91. 115 

Locke, Jake 8, 10-13 

MacKenzie, Lewis 86-87 

Obsolescence 296-297. 318. 323. 326 

Oklahoma, Ray 21 2 

Pyne, Charlie 72-76, 79, 83 

Scanning 202-203 

Selling 13, 87, 90. 167-169, 173, 215. 222-223. 333 
Suitcase 87 

Tandem stacking 175-176 

Wiretapping via verification 229, 249-250, 253-259 
Wozniak, Steve 218-225. 243-244, 333. 335 
YIPL/TAP 197, 215 
Bomb plans, atomic 321 
Bomb threats 264. 271 
Bookmaking 98-1 1 5 
Barclay, Ralph 59 
FBI raids, January 1966 106-107 
FBI raids, May 1966 107-108 
Laws against 1 00, 104 
See also: Becklev, Gil: Cohen. Ben 
Bosley, Dr. 264, £86, £93 
Bowren, Bill 277-278 

Boxes: See beige box, black box, blue box, cheese box 
Breakup, AT&T: See antitrust 
Bribery 27, 102 

British Columbia Telephone 202, 205-206 
British Post Office 242 

Broken recording conferences: See party line conferences 

Bubis, Al 107-116, 288 

Busy signal conferences 147-148 

Busy line verification: See verification 

Busy-out the telephone system 177 

California Penal Code: See laws . 502.7 California Penal Code 
Call waiting 1 72, 237. 249 
CAMA-C 297 

Cambridge Five spy ring 80-81 

Caming, H. W. William (Bill) 92-97, 104-105, 113-114, 116. 304-305, 331 
Camp Bloomfield 1 55 
Camp Wapanacki 136 
Campbell, Duncan 389 

Cap’n Crunch whistle 155, 166, 202. 209, 326, 369 

Cap’n Software 329 

Captain Crunch: See Draper. John 

Card translator, 4A crossbar 47, 174 

Carson, Johnny 228 

Carterfone 298-299 

Case Western Reserve University 1 80 

Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute: See Daw Crockett Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute 
Catalyst, Cheshire 320-321 , 331 
Cave drawings 158 

CCIS: See common channel interoffice signaling 

Celebrities and blue boxes 223, 243-244 
Central office 

052 conference 207 
Barclay, Ralph 58-59 
Black box fraud 89 
CAMA-C 297 
Concept of 20, 23-24 
Greenstar 94 
Electromechanical 44-48 
Electronic 232-238 
Engressia 121 127, 131 317 
Fiddles 242 
Line card 265 
Loop arounds 148-149 
Machine, The, impact of 1 60 
Social engineering 1 77-1 79. 202 
Simultaneous seizure 226-227 
Touch-tone dialing 50, 237 
Trunk lines 23-24 

See also: crossbar switching system, electronic switching system (ESS), step-bv-step switching 
Central processing unit (CPU) 234-235 
Chappe, Claude 14-15 
Charley board 312-315 
Cheese box 101-103. 114, 127, 149 
Cheney, Bill 265, 268 

Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company 188 
Chicago Seven 199 
Churchill, Ray 1 32-1 33 
CIA crisis line 229 

Clarkson College of Technology 180 

Coburn, James 191 

Cochran, Jay 258, 277-278. 282 

Code of conduct 169 

Code of silence 144-145 

Cohen, Ben 108-110. 327 

Coin telephone: See pay phone 

Common channel interoffice signaling (CCIS) 296-297, 306, 332 

Common control 45-47, 236 

Communication Workers of America (CWA) 1 90 

Competition 22, 26-27. 236, 298-302 

Digital circuitry 220-221 

Electronic switching 233-235. 296-297. 322 
Hacking 306-309, 320 

Homebrew/personal 272. 276, 280-281 . 306-309 
Phone phreaking 313-314, 31 6 
Condon, David 29-30, 35-40. 244-245. 277, 291, 326-327 

Conference call: See 052 conference. 21 1 1 conference, busy signal conferences, open-sleeve-lead conferences, party line 

Congressional Research Service 96-97 
Conners, Earl 305 

Conventions, phone phreak 21 2-21 5. 31 9-321 
Cordboard: See switchboard 
Cornell University 86, 1 86 
Cornfeld, Bernard 243-244 
Counterculture 150, 185-200. 209, 241 
CPU: See central processing unit 

Credit card fraud, telephone 102, 193-197. 204, 241 . 293 
Crimson , Harvard 1_, 6-8, 1 0. 12. 225 

Crossbar switching system 42, 45-46, 49, 1 20, 1 61 . 232-233 

See also: #4A crossbar switch. #5 crossbar switch, crossbar tandem 
Crossbar tandem (XBT) 1 75-1 76, 371 
Crybaby 65 

Cummings, Robert 244 

David, B. 2=4, 7-10, 126-129. 165 
Davis Jr., Sammy 195 

Davy Crockett Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute 30, 35-36, 39, 244, 327 

Davy Crockett: See Condon. David 

Dawson, Floy 282-284. 292 

DeButts, John 1 58. 258 

Decibel, Ben 245 

Defense Communications Agency 269-270 
Demo gods 279 

Demonstrator, touch-tone 237. 247 
Desmond, John 80, 82-83 
Dial, telephone, letters and numbers 32 
Dialed number recorder (DNR) 314-315 
Diamond, Al 149-150, 223. 328 
See also: Bernav, Al 
Digital blue box 220-221, 383-384 
Direct control 44-46 
Direct distance dialing (DDD) 32, 49-50 

Directory assistance 53-55, 61 , 66, 124. 137. 273, 31 1 . 335, 351 
Supervision signal and 143-146 
Spoofing 227-228 

Discriminatory hiring practices, AT&T 1 89-1 90 
Distant Early Warning (DEW) line 182, 273 
Doherty, Joseph 183, 199, 231, £48, £58 
Doorbell, Evan 204, 245 
Doyle, Jerry 1 05-1 06. 1 1 5 

Draper, John 

21 1 1 conference 1 63, 206 

Apple Computer 312-314 

Arrest, California, 1 972 201, 205-209 . 216-217 

Arrest, California, 1 976 290-294 

Arrest, New Jersey, 1 977 315 

Arrest, Pennsylvania, 1977 314-316 

Avoidance by other phreaks 245, 277 , 292 

BART ticket forgery 329 

Captain Crunch 165-166 

Charley Board 312-314 

Convention, phone phreak, 1972 213-214 

Defense fund 21 3, 21 5-21 6 

Draperism 282, 31 5, 318-319 

EasyWriter word processor 319, 329 

Esquire article 171-173. 177, 179-181 

FBI wiretapping via verification 249, 251-261 , 267, 272-274 , 276, 281-283, 287-290 
Homebrew Computer Club 309 
Learns of phone phreaking 150-155 
National Public Radio program 230 
Parole violation, 1979 318-319 
People's Computer Company 281 
Personality quirks 1 71-1 72 
Piggyback ride 337 
President Nixon prank 228-229 
Psychiatric evaluation 318-319 
Tandem stacking 177 
TAP, letters to 276, 319 
Wozniak, Steve 221-222, 312-314 
DUE (Detect Unauthorized Equipment) 188 
Duffy, Thomas 204-205. 383 
Dumpster diving 241 , 247, 263, 286 
DXing, radio 136 

EasyWriter word processor 319, 329 

Economics 33, 48-49, 231 , 269, 297 

Edfast, Roger 277-278 

Eder, Chic 251-259 

Edison, Thomas (inventor) 21, 262 

Edison, Thomas (phone phreak) 319-321 . 330 

Electronic organ 1 42-1 43. 1 53-1 54. 230 

Electronic switching system (ESS) 232-238, 318 

Engineers 52, 91-92, 184 

Engressia, Joe 

21 1 1 conference 1 63-1 65 

Acker, Bill MO, 161-162, 238 

Arrest, 1971 132-134 

Bell Labs analysis of Esquire article 183 

Blindness 117-118. 164 

Blue boxing to get a job 130-134 
Captain Crunch 165-166 
Childhood 1 1 7-1 23 
College 123-129 
David. B. 126-128, 165 
Denver 31 6-31 7 

Emotional connection to telephone 1 1 9, 129 

Esquire article 168, 1 70, 172-173 

FBI investigation, 1969 1 27-1 28 

For Whom Ma Bell Tolls Not 1 81 

Isolation and loneliness 126-127. 1 29. 161-162 

Memphis 129-134 

Millington Telephone 1 34 

Mountain Bell 31 6-31 7, 328 

National Public Radio 230 

Open sleeve-lead conference 127, 202 

Publicity 1 26 

Secrecy vs. openness 165, 246 
Stories and Stuff 328 
Verification 250 
Way, Tandy 122, 127 
Whistling 122-126 
Wozniak, Steve 21 8-21 9 
Zzzzyzzerrific Funline 328 
See also: Jovbubbles 
Entrapment 283-284, 287-288 
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 190, 297 
Ernestine (Lily Tomlin character) 191-1 92 

Esquire magazine 170-184 . 199, 206. 208-210, 213. 218, 231, 247, 252, 273. 297, 327, 330, 334 
ESS: See electronic switching system (ESS) 

Exchange, telephone 20, 23, 27, 59, 65, 250. 316. 325 
000-1 99 exchange codes 65, 202-203 
Automatic 25, 41-43, 45 
Failure, PLaza 8, NYC 189 
Foreign 300 
Missing 9-1 1 
Names 31-32 
Numbers 31-32. 45, 47, 65 

See also: busy signal conference, central office, party line conference, switchboard 
Execunet 300-301 
Exhaustive dialing: See scanning 
Extensions, telephone 1 88. 193 

Facebook 1 50. 158 

FBI: See Federal Bureau of Investigation 

FCC: See Federal Communications Commission 
Federal Bureau of Investigation 
Acker, Bill, 1976 311-312 
Atomic bomb plans 321 

Barclay, Ralph, 1961 59-60 
Bell Labs Telephone Crime Lab 1 82-1 83 
Billings, MT blue box arrests 1 80 
Blue box arrests, September 1 972 215 
Bookmaking 98, 1 00-1 09 
Convention, phone phreak, 1972 21 5 
Credit card calls 194-195 

Draper, John, 1 971-1 972 180, 208, 213-214, 216 

Draper, John, 1 975, wiretapping of FBI 251-261 

Draper, John, 1 976 276-277, 282-284. 287-292 

Engressia, Joe, 1 969 127-128 

Gudgel, Bob, 1971 181 

Harvard students, 1963 78-83 

Locke, Jake, 1 967 8, 9, 12-13 

Oklahoma, Ray, 1972 21 2 

Memo to AT&T Chairman 258 

Pyne, Charles, 1 963 78-83 

Sheridan, Paul 271-280, 287-290. 301 

Telephone company security agents 204 

Toll fraud 91 

Wozniak, Steve, blue box note 223-224 
YIPL/TAP newsletter 240-241. 276-277. 321 
Federal Communications Commission 
Antitrust laws 302 

Carterfone/foreign attachments 298-299 
Hush-a-Phone hearing 1 59 
Laws against telephone fraud 90 
MCI 299-300. 302 

Investigation into AT&T service failures 1 89 
Investigation into AT&T discrimination 1 90 
Rate increase request 187-188 

Fettgather, Jim 147, 153-156. 163-164, 166, 170. 172, 247-248, 328 
Feynman, Richard 1 1 9 
Fiddle 242 

Fierstein, Alan 186-187, 192. 197-200 
Fifth Estate 241 

Fine Arts 1 3 2, 7=8, 12, 71, 77, 79-80. 126, 225 
Firedrake, George 280 
Flash Override 270, 274 
Flute 76-77 

See also: Davy Crockett Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute. Tonette flute 
Fonger, B. A. 278 

For Whom Ma Bell Tolls Not: See Orth, Maureen 

Ford, Gerald 268. 303 

Foreign exchange service 300 

Framed: See entrapment 

Fraud by Wire: See laws. 1 8 USC 1 343 

FX service: See foreign exchange service 

Garbage: See Dumpster diving 
Gates, Bill 281, 309 

General Telephone and Electronics (GTE) 57-58, 124-125. 161. 205-206, 226, 255. 257, 260, 268, 277, 279, 286-287, 

Gilbert, John 245, 338, 390 

Gilbertson, Al 167-170. 173-174, 230. 327-328. 335 

Glare: See simultaneous seizure 

Goldman, Albert 252 

Governor Dummer Academy 68 

Gravitt, T. O.: See Ashlev-Gravitt scandal 

Greene, Harold 321-322, 332 

Greenstar, Project 91-97, 115-116. 144. 182, 304-305, 358-359 
Group Bell 245-246 
Guard banding 273-274. 278-279 
See also: tandem stacking 
Gudgel, Bob 165-166. 181. 240 

Hacker, telephone 369 

Ham radio 37, 65, 69, Zi, 88, 122, 126, HI, 201, 331 
Handles 165-166. 173, 221, 316 
Hanna, Kenneth 98, 104-116. 288, 312, 327 
Harmonic telegraph 17 

Harvard University 1=2, 4, 7=9, 12, 68-72, 74, 77-78, 80-86, 126, 225, 309, 313. 326 
See also: Locke. Jake: Lauck. Tonv : Pvne. Charlie: Ross. Ed 
Harward, Bill 257-258. 277-278, 282 
Hatred of telephone company 187-192. 197. 231 
He's got the whole world in his hands 223-224. 244 
Heckel, Paul 66, Zi, 77-78. 83, 326 
Heffron, Eli (store) 66 
Heinz, Dennis 1 50 
Heist, Bill 98, IQi, 106-107 
Herald , Boston 8-10, 13 
Hierarchical network 24, 269. 348-349 
Highrise Joe: See Enoressia. Joe 
Hijacking, cultural 199-200 
Hill, Robert 348, 389 

Hippies: See counterculture. Youth International Party 
Hoaxes: See pranks 

Hoffman, Abbie 186-187, 192, 197, 199. 212-213. 215-216 
Hogan, James 1 09 

Homebrew computers/Computer Club 281 , 308-309 
Hook switch dialing 1 21-1 24 

Hopper, Ken 93-95, 182-183, 257. 277-279, 315-316, 322, 331 
Hotel Diplomat: See Conventions, phone phreak 
Hubbard, Gardiner 17-18 
Hush-a-Phone 1 58-1 59 

In-band signaling 48-49, 62, 74. 85 

Independent telephone companies 22, 26-28, 57. 72. 1 24, 1 38. 1 61 
See also: competition. General Telephone and Electronics 

Informants 214-215. 244-245. 253. 277, 279. 283-284, 287-288. 290. 308 
See also: Eder, Chic : Reid, Ernie: Sheridan. Paul 
Information: See directory assistance, knowledge, openness vs. secrecy 
Intel 306-309 

International Society of Telephone Enthusiasts 165 
See also: David. B. 

Internet 16, 43, 99, 156, 296-297, 332 

Interstate Commerce Commission 27 

Inward operator 4=7, 10, 33, 36, 49, 66-67, 72-73, 208, 250 

Isolation: See loneliness 

Jacobs, Bob 272, 277-278 
Jell-0 118 

Jobs, Steve 219-225, 243-244, 309, 313. 333-334. 336 
Joke lines 157-159. 223 
Joybubbles 328-329 

See also: Engressia, Joe 

Juicing 245. 390 
Justice Department, U.S. 

Antitrust 27-28, 301-302, 321, 331 
Bookies 104, 107, H2, J!5 
Draper, John 260 
Greenstar 96 

Laws, telephone fraud 89-91 
Sheridan, Paul 271-272 
Wiretapping via verification 254, 257 
See also: Federal Bureau of Investigation 

Kaylor, Roy 280-281, 283 
Kazan, Lainie 223, 244 
Kefauver, Estes 108 
Kelley, Clarence 258 
Kingsbury Commitment 27-28, 301 
Kissinger, Henry 225 
Kleena Kleene, B.C. 4-7 
Knowledge, shared 165 
Kranyak, Jack 241 

Langford, F. Steele 257. 259 

Lauck, Tony 69, 72-74, 77-78. 82-83, 326 

Lavelle School for the Blind 1 36, 141-143 


1 8 USC 1 084 (Interstate Transmission of Wagering Information) 1 00. 1 07 

1 8 USC 1 343 (Fraud by Wire) 89-91. 97, 107, H5, 208, 212, 260-261. 282, 288. 290-291. 31 1-312 
47 USC 605 (Wiretapping) 96, 109-113. 288 
502.7 California Penal Code 21 0. 241 , 380 
Lefcourt, Jerry 199 
Leger, Lloyd 316-317 
Letters on telephone dial 32 
Lingo, Kim 230 

Locke, Jake 1-14. 126. 313. 326 

Loman, Henry 1 08, 1 1 1 

Lompoc prison 293, 296, 312 

Loneliness 126, 129, 155-157. 160-161, 245-246 

Long distance 

21 1 access code 32 
AT&T Long Lines 22-23 
Automation 41-50. 52-55 
Competitors, access to AT&T 27-28 
Direct distance dialing 49-50 
Early 14-16 
Routing 42 

Switching, manual 24, 32-35, 42 
Toll records 101-1 04 

Loop arounds 148-150. 153, 155-157. 173, 178, 202, 223, 230. 237, 245, 262, 267 
Lucey, Fraser: See Acker. Bill : Esauire magazine 

Machine intelligence 46-47 

Machine, The (telephone joke line) 1 57. 1 59-1 60 

Mack, John 305 

MacKenzie, Louis 86-87. 1 03-1 04 
Mafia: See bookmaking 
Mark Bernay Society 1 54. 1 66 
Marker 46 
Mason, Peter 80 

May Day demonstrations, 1 971 185, 193 
MCI 299-302, 331 
McQueen, Steve 195 

Memory, computer 46-47. 234-235. 306-308 

Menalto Market 280-283, 287-288 

MF: See multifreauencv 

MF Boogie 230 

Microprocessor 306-309 

Microsoft 62, 235. 309 

Midnight Skulker: See Bernav, Mark 

Military telephone system: See AUTOVON, JCSAN/COPAN 

Millington Telephone 134 

MIT 2, 4, 6-11, 66, 69-70. 74, 79, 84, 86, 311, 326, 334 
See also: Heckel. Paul 

MITS (Altair computer manufacturer) 308-309 
Mob: See bookmaking 
Modell, Nathan 1 06 

See also: Hanna. Kenneth 
Modem 43, 296-297, 313. 320, 322, 332 
Monopoly 18, 27-28, 158, 187, 236. 301 

See also: antitrust. Carte done, competition. Hush-a-Phone. MCI 
Moog synthesizer 222 
Morris, IL (ESS prototype) 234-236 
Morse code 16, 37, 141-142, 208 

Morse, Samuel 15 
Moscow 130, 181, £25 
Mountain Bell 317-318. 327-328 

Multifrequency (MF) signaling 5=6, 9-10, 47-50. 52-57, 72-74, 76, 85, 138-142. 145. 154, 167. 175, 203, 206. 208, 219, 
230, 247, 268. 296-297. 314, 325 
Multiple telegraph 16-17 
Mute: See black box 

National Public Radio 230-231 . 244. 298 
National Security Agency 101. 209, 278, 395 
Nerping: See juicing 

Network of phone phreaks 9, 126-129, 155-157. 160-166. 169, 171-174. 181, 212-214, 218-219 
See also: 052 conference. 21 1 1 conference 
Network Service Center, Denver 31 7-318. 328 
New England Telephone and Telegraph 28, 80-82 
New York Institute of Technology 1 80 
New York service failures 1 88-1 89, 297 

New York Telephone 28, 144-145. 180, 188-189. 204, 207, 215, 241, 260 
Newman, Paul 1 95 

Newspapers, underground: See underground newspapers 
Nike missile control 71 

Nixon, Richard 185-186, 191. 225, 229-230. 303 

No. 1 ESS, No. 4 crossbar switch, No. 5 crossbar switch, etc.: See numerical entries at start of index 

NORAD 80, 121 

Norden, Robert P. 264-267, 293 

Northern Telephone Company 325-326 

Notes on Distance Dialing 72 

NPA: See area code 

NPR: See National Public Radio 

Nuclear hoax, Santa Barbara 225-228, 267 

Numbering plan area: See area code 

Oaf Tobar 221, £24 
Obscene phone calls 264 

Obsession 10, 14, 17, 36, 68, Z£, 117-118, 199, 266. 333 
Oklahoma, Ray 203, 209-210, 212-213, 250, 328 
Old Bailey (UK phone phreaks) 242-243 
Omerta 144-145 

Open sleeve-lead conference 1 27. 202 
Openness vs. secrecy 1 65, 169, 245-246 
Operating system 62-63, 235 

Acker, Bill MO, 317 
AUTOVON 278-279 
Boys as 21 
Bribing 102 

Condon, David 35-36. 39-40 
Conference calls 163 
Credit card calls 194-196 

Distance dialing 49 

Early 20-21. 23-26 

Ernestine (Lily Tomlin character) 1 91-1 92 
Engressia, Joe 124, 129-130. 133, 328 
Greenstar 94 

Impersonation 40, 66, 83, 326 
International 246 

Long distance 32-36. 39-43, 49, 175 

Optical telegraph 15 

Pay phone 238-239 

Pyne, Charlie 64-67, 70-71, 83 

Sheridan, Paul 264 

Size of workforce 24, 41 

Stacking 66-68 

Supervision 47 

Verification 250 

See also: directory assistance, inward operator, rate and route operator 
Optical telegraph 14-15 
Organ: See electronic organ 
Organized crime: See bookmaking 
Orth, Maureen 181 . 208 
Overseas switching center 246-247 
Ownership of telephones: See rental of telephones 

Pacific Northwest Bell 1 88. 240 
Pacific Telephone and Telegraph 28, 188. 248 
Barclay, Ralph 58-61 
Bubis, Al 107-108 

Draper, John; Sheridan, Paul; and FBI wiretapping 253-255. 260, 262-264. 271, 276-277. 282-283. 285-289. 293, 

Ramparts 210-21 1 
TEL newsletter 241-242 
Panel switching system 42, 45 

Paranoia 165, 180, 191, 244-247, 266-267. 277, 294, 308, 315, 318-319 
Party line 

Actual 186 

Conferences 10, 147-148 
Patent, telephone 18, 21-22. 26 
Pay phone 

Airport (72, 154-155 
Barclay, Ralph 52 
Burglaries 263 

Draper, John 181, £01, £14, £Z£, 282-283 . 287-289 
Engressia, Joe 122-123, 129 
Pyne, Charlie 68 

Red box 238-240, 256, 273, 291, 315 
Security measure H, 68, 82 
Whistle trips 1 54-1 55 
PDP-6 computer, MIT 31 3 
Peckham, Robert 208, £14, 217, 319 
Peg counter 105 

Pennsylvania Bell: See Bell of Pennsylvania 

People’s Computer Company 272, 280-283. 287, 308 

Perrin, Wayne 263-268, 270-272. 277-278, 280, 284-286, 293, 331 

Person-to-person call 34-35 

Philby, Kim 81 

Phone Freaks of America (PFA) 1 65 

See also: Network of phone phreaks 
Phone trips 1 54-1 55 
Phreak, origin of term 1 65. 1 74 
Plath, Rick 149-150. 160 
PLaza 8 exchange, New York City 1 89 
Plimmer, Tom 1 59-1 60 
Point-to-point telephone service 1_9 
Politeo, Tom 1 59-1 60. 1 69 
Pope (Wozniak prank) 225 
Popular Electronics 88, 307-308 
Pranks 122, 224-229. 267, 315-316. 322 
Precedence dialing 269-270. 274 

President, United States: See Ford, Gerald: Nixon. Richard 

President’s Analyst, The 191. 292 

President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board 259 

Processor Technology 309, 314 

Project 21 286, £93 

Project Greenstar: See Greenstar. Project 
Pseudonyms: See handles 

Publicity 85-86. 97, 124, 126, 129-130. 132, 164, 169. 180. 213. 225 
Puzzles 2, 17, 70, 174, 196, 262 
Pynchon, Thomas 171 

Pyne, Charlie 64-86. 103. 199. 225, 313. 326. 333 

Radio Electronics 242 
Ramparts 209-213. 241, 297, 328 
Rate and route operator 33, 42, 58, 66, 31 1 
Rates, telephone 

Competition 299-301 
Historical 19-20, 26, 34, 1£4, 163 
Increase requests 187-188 
Person-to-person 34-35 

Recorded announcements 10, 60-61 . 86. 1 48. 1 53. 1 55. 269 
Recordings: See recorded announcements, tape recordings 
Red box 238-240. 256, 273, 291. 315 

Regulating the Phone Company in Your Own Home: See Ramparts 

Regulation: See antitrust. Carterfone, competition. Federal Communications Commission. Hush-a-Phone. monopoly. MCI 

Rehearing 1 1 3-1 1 5 

Reid, Ernie 77, 79-80 

Rental of telephones 19-20. 188, 299 

Rice University 86 

Riddell, Bob 325 

Ring forward signal 33, 36-37, 41 

Ringer tests for unauthorized extensions 1 88 

Rosenbaum, Ron 170-174, 179, 183-184, 218, 330, 333 

Rosenthal, Frank “Lefty” 1 08 

Ross, Ed 69-72 . 77-79, 81-82, 326 

Roth, Jim 383, 394 

Roussell, Maurice 98 
Routing of calls 

Automated 42, 46-47, 55 
Manual 33, 35, 39, 42 
Sounds 137 
Unusual 141 , 160 

See also: operator stacking, rate and route operator, tandem stacking 
Russell, Jim 230 

S & G Syndicate 108-109 
Sanders, Thomas J_8 

Santa Barbara nuclear hoax 225-228. 267 
Saxe, Nelson 274-275, 277-279 
Scandal: See Ashlev-Gravitt scandal 
Scanning 10, 65, 70, ±37, 163, 202, 313-314 
Schaefer, Sidney 191, £92, 294-295 
Schmidt, Walter 255, 257, 277-279 
Schoolsky, Adam 223 
Scientific method 1 1 9 
Seaway Electronics 88 
Secrecy vs. openness 1 65, 169, 245-246 
Secret Service 1 28, 254, 267, 271 
Secrets of the Little Blue Box: See Esquire 

Security, telephone company 59-60. 80-83. 105-115. 127, 132-133. 144-145. 199. 204-206. 247-248. 262-264 

See also: Alex. George: Cheney, Bill: Desmond, John : Doherty, Joseph : Doyle, Gerry : Hopper, Ken: Mason, Peter : 
Perrin. Wayne : Saxe. Nelson : Schmidt. Walter: Telephone Crime Lab: Vanlnweoen, J.C. 

Sender 46 

Service failures, 1 969-1 970 188-189 
Sharp, Edwin J. 101-102 
Shaw, Walter 1 02-1 04 

Sheridan, Paul 267-268, 270-280. 284-286, 289-290. 293-294. 301. 331 
Signaling: See in-band signaling, multifreguencv signaling, single-freguencv signaling, supervision 
Signaling Systems for Control of Telephone Switching 10, 51-53. 351 
See also: Bell System Technical Journal 
Simultaneous seizure 226-228, 385 
Singing machines 48, 53 

Single-frequency (SF) signaling 47-49, 52-54. 56, 1 23-1 24. 140-141 
Sirmons, Bob 1 61 

Skulker, Midnight: See Bernav. Mark : Esauire magazine 

Sleeve lead: See open sleeve-lead conference 

Snell, Bill 272, 277-278 

Social engineering 1 77-1 79. 372 

SOL-20 309, 314 

Sounds of the telephone network 1 21 . 1 37-1 38. 1 41 . 1 76-1 77 

Southern Bell 105,107, 127, 188, 304 

Southern New England Telephone 1 88 

Southern Pacific Communications 300-301 

Southwestern Bell 127, 303-304, 306. 317, 322, 331 

SPC: See stored program control 

Spies and spy rings 3, 79-82. 165. 191. 215. 285 

Sprint 300-301 

Stanford Linear Accelerator Center 219, 333 
State University of New York 180 

Arrests, electronic toll-fraud 1 1 4. 21 6. 248 
Credit card fraud 194 
Greenstar 92-97 
Steal This Book 186-187 . 197 
Stearns, Hoyt 86, 355 

Step-by-step switching system 25-26. 31 . 41 . 45-46. 48. 121 , 1 60. 226-227. 232 

Stewart and Jerome 71, 79 

Stored program control (SPC) 233-238 

Stories and Stuff 328 

Strategic Air Command 267. 271 

Strowger, Almon 24-25 

Strowger switching system: See step-bv-step switching system 
Students for a Democratic Society 195 
Subpoena 106, HI, 181, 216, 288-289 
Sugden (Supreme Court case) 110-1 1 1 . 113 
Supervision 47-48 

Directory assistance and blue boxes 143-146 

Greenstar 93 

Loop arounds 149. 237 

Tandem stacking 177 

Supreme Court 110-111, 113. 115. 208. 302, 306 
Surveillance, toll-fraud: See Greenstar. Project 
Sweeping (Bell System Practice) 191 

Switchboard 20-26, 31-36, 42, 46, 70-71 . 129-130, 191, 325 

Switching systems: See crossbar switching system, electronic switching system (ESS), step-bv-step switching system 

Simultaneous seizure 226-228. 385 
Stacking 174-177. 183. 273 
Switch 26, 162-163, 202 
Switchboard 24 

White Plains 175-176. 202-203, 207 
See also: guard banding, operator stacking 
TAP: See Technological American Party. Youth International Party Line 
Tape recordings 

Bells, pay phone 239 
Bookmaking 1 04-1 08. 111-115 
Draper FBI wiretaps 254-255. 289 
Greenstar 94-95. 304-305 

Los Angeles International Airport 86 

MF tones 73, 141-143. 208. 214, 219 
Round-the-country call 66-68 
Sheridan, Paul interrogations 285-286 
See also: recorded announcements 
TARCASE (bookmaking) 1 05-1 07 
Taxes: See telephone excise tax 
Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) 1 1 

Technological American Party (TAP) 240-241 , 260. 276-277. 319-321, 330 
Technological Hobbyist Conference, 1 979 (THC-79) 319. 321 
Tela-Tone 88 
Telegraph 15-21, 27-28 

See also: optical telegraph 
Telephpne 1-336 :-) 

Telephone company: See American Telephone and Telegraph. General Telephone and Electronics. Independent 
telephone companies 
Telephene Crime Lab 181-183 
Telephene Electronics Line (TEL) 241-242 
Telephone excise tax 192-193, 376 
Teletronics Company of America 241-242 
Teletype 162, 187, 308, 320, 3Z0 

Teresi, Denny 147, 151-156. 163-164, 170, 177-180. 247-248. 328 

Test board 5=6, 40, 67 , 130-131. 134. 250, 265 

Tie lines 69-70, 80 

Time of day recording 60, 1 18, 1 21 

Toilet paper prank 228-229, 385-386 

Toll records 101-103 

Toll test unit: See Greenstar 

Tomlin, Lily 191-192 

Tones: See 2,600 Hz : multifreauencv signaling : single-frequency signaling: touch tones 
Tonette flute 139-142 

Touch tones 6, 47, 50, 57., 138-139. 203. 207, 237, 247, 270, 300-301. 313. 314 
TPC (The Phone Company) 191 
Traffic analysis 101 

Transistor 74, 83, £20, 231-235, 238, 296-297. 306-307, 332 
Trashing: See Dumpster diving 
Treichler, John 86, 355 

Trouble card 61 
Trunk lines 

Automation 47, 50 

AUTOVON 269, 273-274 

Blue boxing 53-56. 296-297, 318. 322-323 

Early 23-24, 26 

Greenstar 93 

Manual switchboard 33-36, 39 
Simultaneous seizure 227 
Single-frequency/whistling 1 24. 1 40. 1 54 
Tandem stacking 1 75-1 78 . 273-274 
Verification 250 
Turner, Ike 223. 243 

Turner, Rick 64, 66-68 
Twitter 1 50. 1 58 
TWX converter 1 62 

Underground newspapers 195 . 197. 210, 241 
Underground, phone phreak 171-172. 253, 256-257. 261 
Unintended consequences 1 67-1 70. 1 79. 21 8, 31 1 , 327 
United Kingdom 203, 242-243 
Universal information: See directory assistance 

Vanlnwegen, J. C. 1 81 
Vatican (Wozniak prank) 225 
Verification 249-251. 256, 391 
Vietnam War 151, 185-186, 192, 209, 230 
Village Voice 170. 319 

Wall Street Journal 283 

War Tax Resistance 193 

Washington State College 51, 59 

WATS extender 313-315. 335 

Watson, Robert 83-84 

Watson, Thomas 1 8-1 9 

Wawina, MN 325-326 

Way, Tandy 122, 127 

Weather Underground 251-252 

Western Electric 28, 235, 298, 301-302. 322 

Western Union 16, 18, 21, 27 

Westin, Mr.: See Fettaather. Jim 

21 1 1 conference 163-164, 202, 206 

Cap’n Crunch 154-155. 166. 202, 209, 326 

Draper, John 153, 165-166, 209 

Engressia, Joe 122-126, 130. 132, 173, 326. 335 

Pyne, Charlie 77 

Trips 1 54 

Wozniak, Steve 21 8 

See also: Daw Crockett Cat and Canary Bird Call Flute. Tonette Flute 
White Flouse 

800 number 229, 268, £80, 385-386. 393-394 
Hotline 254 

Secret telephone system 127-128 
See also: Ford, Gerald : Nixon. Richard 
White Plains Tandem 2 175-176, 203, 207 

WHRB (Plarvard student radio station) 68-70, 72-73, 77 

Ashley-Gravitt scandal 303-304. 306 
Bookies 101 

Engressia 1 27-1 28, 1 31 
FBI 249-261, 272, 278 
Legality 109-115. 288 
Soviet undersea cables 182 

Verification/blue box 249-261 

White House 127-128, 229 
See also: Greenstar ; laws. 47 USC 605 
Wink 54, 175, 371 
Woolworth’s 29-30 

Wozniak, Steve 218-225. 229. 243-244, 281. 309. 312-313. 333. 335 

XBT: See crossbar tandem 

YIPL: See Youth International Party Line 
Yippies: See Youth International Party 
Young Engineering 66 
Young, Shane 326 

Youth International Party 1 85-1 86, 1 97, 214, 257 

Youth International Party Line 185-186, 192-193, 197-200. 213-214. 230, 238. 240, 330-331 
See also: Technological American Party 

Zzzzyzzerrific Funline 328 

The Playground 

Table of Contents 









A Note on Names and Tenses 

Chapter One 

Chapter Two 

Chapter Three 

Chapter Four 

Chapter Five 

Chapter Six 

Chapter Seven 

Chapter Eight 

Chapter Nine 

Chapter Ten 

Chapter Eleven 

Photo Insert 

Chapter Twelve 

Chapter Thirteen 

Chapter Fourteen 

Chapter Fifteen 

Chapter Sixteen 

Chapter Seventeen 

Chapter Eighteen 

Chapter Nineteen 

Chapter Twenty 

Chapter Twentv-one 


Sources and Notes 



The Playground